Thursday, July 24, 2003

OxBlog's Versatility

Our friends at OxBlog have shifted gears momentarily from foreign policy to eros. Specifically, Josh Chafetz has some nice posts on Allan Bloom's Love and Friendship which is not your typical, but certainly a potentially rewarding, summer read.

I would quibble with one remark Chafetz makes in his first post regarding the supposed lack of a unifying theme among the three main sections of the book (Rousseau and the Romantics, Shakespeare, and Plato). Friendship, including its absence in romanticism, is the book's unifying theme. Or, rather, let's say that the tension between love and friendship which romanticism seeks to collapse (perhaps unsuccessfully in Bloom's opinion) is the unifying theme of Bloom's book. Love and friendship are not the same phenomena, despite their connection to eros, and they are often in serious tension with each other. The book explores this tension which, as Bloom notes, is another variation on the tension between Athens and Jerusalem.

Friendship has a lot to do with philosophy, which seems more viable, even necessary, in modernity. But modern philosophy posits the natural asociality of man in an effort to achieve certain political ends, to be more practical. Perhaps for this reason friendship, which one often finds connected to philosophy in ancient discussions, is absent in modern philosophy. It is astonishing that the modern philosopher who revived so many classical themes, Rousseau, has next to nothing to say about friendship. This is what makes the Hal/Falstaff and Montaigne/Boetie section of the book crucial. This "interlude" ushers us back into another world. Many things about this world are difficult, for it contains staggering critiques of family life and politics for the threats they pose to philosophy and friendship.

This is a tougher book than its title might suggest; it sometimes serves to shatter what we hope for.

By the way, one wishes Andrew Sullivan would study this book harder as it might lead him to make more careful distinctions not just between love and friendship but between different kinds of love.


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