Friday, June 23, 2006

friendly fighting

Considering that part of the seminar I'm taking with Amanda Anderson is concerned with the possibility and efficacy of political discourse, communication, argument etc., I found this quote from Montaigne interesting. Before I transcribe it I also want to mention that it was interesting that, recently, I fell into a discussion with a group of students here, the majority of whom happened to be from other countries--Australia, France, Ireland, Germany, Britain (and others, none of whom are in my seminar, as a matter of fac--in which we discussed "impolite" argument. (It was in response to a lecture by Bruno Bosteels about Badiou where quite a few folks had difficulty Bosteel's argument but felt constrained by the forum--one is supposed to be polite, but how to get one's disagreement across without, at some level, risking precisely that.) Everyone agreed that it was more fun, interesting, even honest to ask a fairly aggressive and straightforward question. I think that this does indeed have soemthing to do with the crowd I was talking to--their being primarily European ; Americans are so afraid of argument. To be an interlocutor sometimes requires, we agreed, disagreeing for the sake of learning. So here's Montaigne on the subject (in the context of friendship, which puts a different spin on it, perhaps):

I can put up with being roughly handled by my friends'You are an idiot! You are raving!' Among gentlemen I like people express themselves heartily, their words follow wherever their thoughts lead. We ought to toughen and fortify our ears against being seduced by the sound of polite words. I like strong, intimate, manly fellowship which rejoices in sharp vigorous exchanges just as love rejoices in bites and scratches which draw blood. It is not strong enough nor magnanimous enough if it is not argumentative, if it is all politeness and art; if it is afraid of clashes and walks hobbled. *Neque eim disputari sine reprehensione potest* [It is impossible to debate without refuting].

Doesn't this sound homoerotic, even sado-masochistic?... Paper idea: The Homoerotic Discourse of Friendship and Debate in Montaigne's Essays.

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