Our brief good fortune while the person regularly in charge was on hiatus and the temporary replacement turned out to be better at and more committed to the basic mechanics of getting us all in ended abruptly when Old Guy returned. The less said about such matters the better, apart from noting that the change for the better with the The New confirmed our dim view of The Old (and the ease and speed with which it’s possible to get the clearances in).
In any case we had a terrific meeting, lively and laugh filled, great exchanges, and much soul searching on the nature of friendship, the role chemistry plays in making connections, the possible homoerotic reading of the central friendship the chapter details between Montaigne and la Boétie, and especially, a deep fascination with la Boétie’s work “On Voluntary Servitude.”
A few highlights of the discussion: first, though they didn’t buy Bakewell’s case that Montaigne was “On Voluntary Servitude”‘s real author — evidence way too thin to support the hypothesis — they expressed serious frustration that they could only find out about the piece third hand through Bakewell’s chronicle of Montaigne’s chronicle of it, with no primary text included in the Bakewell. They were fascinated by the idea that it could be read and interpreted and used to support diametrically opposing lines of argument about the relationship of citizens to the state.
A long time ago I wrote in these blog pages about the men’s high level of regard for authenticity, proper attribution to other sources, and originality, and boy, were those values at play in this discussion. They don’t trust Bakewell, or at least find her lack of substantial use of primary source materials (vs. her own readings of them) suspect.
They have asked me immediately to procure the original la Boétie text for them to read and judge for themselves. They quite carefully parsed the different ways in which Montaigne worried or hoped the text might be understood. I am looking forward to complying, and to the discussion that will follow.
As with counterfactuals generally I can’t sure that I’d not have shared those worries about the heavy Bakewell thumb on the interpretive scale, or desire for WAY more primary Montaigne or la Boétie, but I doubt it: another case in which the men’s attention and interests bring to the fore features of work and conversation things I’m pretty sure I’d have neglected at best. And those things are distinctive.
Moment of high comedy: early on in the chapter Bakewell quotes some passionate passages from Montaigne’s essays, and letters too, I believe, but quickly dispatches with any speculation about homosexuality — “…while any hint of real homosexuality was met with horror,…” — that seemingly romantic language like that in their exchanges was commonplace (and meant nothing sexual). One totally straight identified man who did not buy Bakewell’s argument that this language does not reveal a homoerotic love and relationship supported his view with the tale of an intense, adoring adolescent friendship he’d been in with a handsome pal who always got all the girls, but, who, he reported portentously, TURNED OUT TO BE GAY… To which another man pointed out with obvious glee: Oh yeah, and how’d you turn out?
To clarify: the speaker was implying that his experience of having learned that the beloved companion of his youth was after all gay points in the direction of reading Montaigne and la Boétie’s friendship as also gay. But one of the other members of the group was reminding the speaker that though he was inseparable from his friend, and loved him deeply, he is not gay.