- The Men We Loved: Male Friendship and Nationalism in Israeli Culture
Such classic stories as Jonathan and David in the Bible and Achilles and Patroklus in Homer's Iliad, along with contemporary images of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or even Batman and Robin, reinforce the dominant view of friendship between men as strong, inseparable, and intense. Yet they also suggest that men form these uniquely masculine friendships only in time of war or to fight together in combating evil. You don't quite get the vision of them sitting down for an intimate conversation about how they are feeling, as women allegedly do in their friendships.
Despite the legacy of these historic friendships, men today are seen as incapable of "true" and intimate friendships. Contemporary men's friendships are often viewed through a gendered lens by which women's friendships are seen as "face-to-face" and men's friendships as "side-by-side." However, intimacy comes in many guises, and who is to say that sitting and talking about personal matters is really any deeper or more personal than sharing a life-threatening situation in battle or engaging in a common hobby or sport activity? We know that men "do friendship" in varying ways according to social forces (education, [End Page 186] race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, social class) and cultural norms and practices in different societies. This is one of the lessons learned from Danny Kaplan's scholarly monograph, The Men We Loved: Male Friendship and Nationalism in Israeli Culture.
Unlike much psychologically oriented research on the voluntary nature of friendship and how it meets individual needs, Kaplan explores the intersection of the micro and the macro, the interpersonal stories of friendship in the context of Israeli nationalism. He begins by first detailing the more political and social theories related to friendship in Western thought, such as Aristotle's formative ideas from the Nichomachean Ethics. And he uses Jacques Derrida's views to investigate the relationship between the political/ideological and the emotional in fraternal friendships. Kaplan then introduces us to some key concepts in Israeli Hebrew related to friendship, re'ut and haverut, whose meanings have evolved and signal various degrees of sociability, intimacy, shared destinies, and traditions. It's not an easy read to understand the subtleties of a language you don't speak and the historic and evolving meanings attached to words from a culture you don't live in, but Kaplan's point is clear: historical and current political circumstances that necessitate social cohesion shape the ideology of friendship and the language used to talk about it. However, reader beware: this is an academic book steeped in the postmodern jargon of hegemonic masculinity studies and sociological research.
The heart of the book uses a narrative approach, based on extensive interviews with thirty heterosexual men, many of whom focus on their friendships in the military, school, and work. Kaplan documents, analyzes, and interrogates intimacy and national identity as expressed in various styles of masculinity and friendship: the cool sociability and easy-going friendship as described by the Yiddish term heverman; the intellectual sociability between friends (re'a and ra'ayon); and the trust, sharing, and disclosure of interpersonal support (sichot nefesh). Especially interesting is Kaplan's analysis of the social bonds of men's friendships formed in harsh settings like the military where a life-threatening situation can occur and result in a sort of passionate "conjugal pact" between the men. Using the story of Jonathan and David's heroic friendship as background, he convincingly makes the case that contemporary Israeli heterosexual men's intensely emotional connections formed through endurance become the dominant lens through which men's friendships are viewed. These kinds of hegemonic male friendships (re'ut) are usually maintained best, though, in the recollection of past events rather than in on-going everyday interactions.
However, it is through collective commemoration that the links between ideology, politics, friendship, desire, eroticism, masculinity, and intimacy are [End Page 187] made. The...