Sunday, October 19, 2008
"All of my friends are dead"
So says Harold Ross, one evening eight years after the death of his frenemy Alexander Woolcott. It's a poignant moment in a memoir that manages both to celebrate a life and convey the pain of its loss. One wonders how much of Ross' early death (he was barely 59) had to do with the disillusionment he felt with McCarthyist America of the 50s. Would he have fought harder for his life if he had not felt so discouraged? "Also writes for the New Yorker" had become then (as it is once again) a snide denigration of perceived 'unAmerican' values.
James Thurber's The Years with Ross is full of entertaining anecdotes about New York literati but it's also a tale of friendship between two men. Amicitia was the binding force of most emotional relationships in pre-christian Rome, but the fervent declarations of friendship read oddly to my students. It seems to me that one does not get books written about friendship anymore, nor does it appear to be celebrated in other media. Love, passion, egotism, anger - these are the emotions that drive today's publishing. Friendship seems undervalued. I can't think of any major work of art that celebrates non-sexual friendship that postdates the 60s.
I am wrong? Let me know if I'm overlooking something really obvious.