Saturday, March 21, 2009

Post 561 : Passages 45 : Milan Kundera, Identity – What is friendship?

Milan Kundera, Identity, Pg. 43-44

Jean-Marc rose to get the bottle of cognac and two glasses. Then, after swallowing a mouthful: ‘ At the end of my hospital visit, he began to reminisce. He reminded me of what I must have said when I was sixteen. When he did that, I understood the sole purpose of friendship as it’s practiced today. Friendship is indispensable to man for the proper function of his memory. Remembering our past, carrying it with us always, may be necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have been watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witness of the past, that is to say, with friends. They are our mirror: our memory; w ask, nothing of them but they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it. But I don’t care a damn about what I did in school! What I’ve always wanted, since my early adolescence, maybe even since childhood, was something else entirely: friendship as a valued possession above all others. I liked to say: between the truth and a friend, I always choose the friend. I said it to be provocative, but I really thought it. Today I know that maxim is obsolete. It might have been valid for Achilles as Patroclus’ friend, for Alexandre Dumas’' musketeers, even for Sancho Panza, who was a true friend to this master despite all their disagreements. But for us it isn’t any more. I have become so pessimistic that these days I’d even choose the truth over friendship.’

He took another swallow: ‘Friendship, to me, was proof of the existence of something stronger than ideology, than religion, than the nation. In Dumas’ book, the four friends often find themselves on opposite sides and thus required to fight against one another. But that doesn’t affect their friendship. They still go on helping one another, secretly, cunningly, without giving a damn for the truths of their respective camps. They put their friendship above the truth, or the cause, or orders from superiors, above the king, above the queen and above everything.’

Chantal caressed his hand and after a pause he went on: Dumas wrote the story of the musketeers two hundred years after their time. Was he already feeling nostalgia then for the lost universe of friendship? Or is the disappearance of friendship a more recent phenomenon?’

‘I can’t answer that. Friendship isn’t a problem for women.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘’Just what I say. Friendship is a problem for men. Its their romanticism. Not ours.’

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