Muscling In On Friendship

These days no one seems able to understand male friendship otherwise than as a “bromance”, called by a term that implies a redirection of an established phenomenon to an unfamiliar object. That is, whenever a man is solidly loyal to another man and delights in his company, at one level we are insinuating a homoerotic attraction, which serves to annoy and bait men of insecure sexuality and probably others as well. At another level we are suggesting that he is giving to this other man what has so to speak been stolen from the devotion that he rightfully owes to women. In short, the term “bromance” relies on romance between men and women being the primary pattern.

But just suppose it is actually the other way around? Suppose that what we think of as default romance is actually the heterosexualisation of the Ciceronian concept of friendship? To do justice to this idea I should need to be an expert on Cicero and his De amicitia, its context, predecessors, successors and commentaries. Which I am not, although I do know that the book was entirely familiar to the medievals on whose watch the modern paradigm of romantic heterosexual love was invented. I should also need to be an anthropologist, so as to know how human relationships are thought of among all those societies that were never exposed to either the Antique concept of friendship or the medieval concept of romance. Which I am not either, any more than are all the people who pontificate about this subject on the basis of undergraduate literature courses.

It might be worth pointing to an analogy. One traditional way of looking at the feudal bond between a man and his lord is that political allegiance is personalised with the language of romantic love. But the flip side of this idea might be that the romantic relationship between man and woman can be reinterpreted as a political paradigm: “courtly love” then becomes a reimagining of sexual life on the paradigm of political obedience, employing the language and paraphernalia of feudal dominance and subjection.

Prior to the twelfth century, did anybody ever use the word “friend” for his or her opposite-sex bedmate? If not, it might seem as if the female sex had taken over a terminology that had been purely male for a thousand years. How exactly did a man and his wife regard one another before the invention of romance – or perhaps its transfer from Ciceronian male friendship to heterosexual relations? Perhaps all this has long been studied and settled. Or perhaps it hasn’t.

Posted on January 9, 2011 at 11:30 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, What Is This Thing Called Love?

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