December 24, 2009

Affecting Friendship

There is an art to manliness which is affect. I don’t really have a problem with the cultivation of affectations so long as they are thoroughgoing. After a time, the recently acquired affectation becomes a way of being, and adds to the depth of one’s character. Forms come with meanings, and should be thought about along meaningful lines. Smoking a pipe for the mere image of it, for example, would be no good. There are rituals, commitments, and artisanal considerations to weigh before display can properly be carried out. Such things being observed, the image of it conveys a seriousness of character and thoughtfulness that merely smoking would not. Not that I should go out of my way to promote smoking, heaven forefend, but if that’s your cup of tea, may you observe the appropriate ceremony.

On the topic of affectations that belie meanings, one of the most prevalent, and least edifying, is the tendency of Western males to pretend to stoicism, if not mechanism, in their personal relations with other men. Many of us are fortunate to count among our number one, two, or more genuine male friends. These men, with whom we would entrust our fortunes in love and money, are our dearest companions beyond spousal considerations of whatever persuasion. Yet how often do we tell them? How often do we emote, not theatrically, but sincerely, in their direction? What do we fear would be the result? The truth is that many men fight shy of their own feelings, and presume the same of others. In a vicious circle of machismo – the least manly quality, by the way – we bid to outdo one another in the hardness of our countenances, while consuming ever more alcohol and spiralling downwards into the much vaunted, but overrated, ‘cave’ of primal masculinity. Robert Bly and his ilk are welcome to abscond to their dark, dank, dismal corners and grunt together, but I see no reason to turn my back on the light. Male bonding might be found in ritual violence, but I somehow think there is a sweeter, lighter way. Just for once, be honest with yourself and tell your best mate what you think of him.

You don’t have to tell him you love him if that freaks you out. But my guess is that whatever you say, if it’s heartfelt, won’t be ungraciously received. It would be a hard man indeed who would not soften in the face of true feeling. Beat down the least helpful, least thoughtful of your affectations – the need to seem tough – and be true to the nature of the friendships you value. Who knows, you might start to affect emotion more often and, if you give it due consideration, it might lead you to an altogether better place.


  1. Doctor,

    do you perhaps mean to speak about habits and character and virtues? Is all deepening of character good? Are there not habits that antecede affectation, matters which are not individual, but still are very serious? Those socially acquired habits which make us think our regime our own in particular seem to be the point of contention here, for indeed manliness is not spoken of - except academically - and not treated - except as a byword, or legal offence.

    I mean to tackle only one thought here: that the animal part of courage can safely be discounted, or that it ought to be. It accounts for much more than what is nowadays called primeval, primordial, primal, etc. - it must include, irrespective of the violence of courage, the play of boys, which cannot be suspected to disappear from the adult when it was there in the adolescent: indeed, grown men rejoice in sports sans affectation or cunning. But boys do emote in the contemporary sense quite naturally, whereas men don't; it may be to do with our social habits - are not resolution and predictability (as well the trust they engender) based on not emoting to a considerable extent? Endurance and self-restraint, though not parts of courage, are parts of moderation, lowly though they be - do they not considerably depend on not emoting? Acting tough is one thing, but is there no such compound of courage and moderation as actually being tough? It may not be particularly smart or calculating, but it may be straightforwardness incarnate. Politics, war, and merely standing one's ground require such detachment and sangfroid - as indeed does even a good poker face. In fact, if you go far enough - do not all the practices require it, even in our age? Doctors showing their feelings? Firemen? Speculators? Secretaries? Factory workers? Do not all the jobs and sciences require engagement with the thing at hand and detachment from other considerations: a certain self-forgetting? Manliness seems tied in with this, for better or for worse. - I would guess it includes the need to rebel from all of it also, as neither boys nor men believe very strongly in rules...

    As an aside, to emote comes from the Latin word for motion; it suggests that we are moved by what we call feelings, but used to be called passions, which are oppose to actions. That suggests we are not free, but impelled; also, that we are needy, not independent. Surely, manliness stands to some extent against such weakness. - Hence the extreme prejudice with which men use verbs like 'to bitch'. - Perhaps men are moved by their manliness - or through it - to action, rather than talking (as opposed to poets and, to some extent, women).

    Pardon the broad strokes, as well as the length of the reply, but I do mean to assure you I read with interest, and am not disengaged.

    your student,

  2. I tend to agree with you, as I am wont to do, and I will surely treat the questions you raise in due course. I differ somewhat on the question of being impelled, for I am suggesting that our 'movements' can be controlled and expressed as acts of volition, rather than being merely suppressed. I think that you hit on something important with relation to practices, for how, when and what you emote, and why you do it, is (or ought to be) context dependent. Those categories you mention are public, and the requisite sangfroid is apt. But men also maintain private intimacies and relations that are (or used to be, at least) the implicit underpinning of public relations. I am putting this crudely, but I shall to try to refine things as I go.


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