‘I believe that, between us, over the course of those days, was born a very particular kind of affection which is neither friendship nor love but something like a fusion of sensitivities!’
– Gustave Flaubert speaks of his friend Louis Bouilhet, The Paris Review, Spring 07, Is 180.
This phrasing is weird though somehow really evocative. I want to play with it and see to what extent I can relate it to the voices that inhabit a poem, potentially alongside the speaker’s voice. (Different voices that may even constitute a large part of the speaker’s position.)
‘Sensitivities’ could imply many things, though the phrase places emphasis on compassionate consideration that has arisen between the friends that exceeds conventional categorization.
Just needed to flex a bit of language there before asking this big question: Why not friendship or love?
First some biographical speculation. The excerpt is taken from a passage written by F that he placed in a sealed envelope following the death of his friend. This letter is newly reprinted in The Paris Review, its insides expounded, and another letter, this time a letter F wrote and sent to a second friend at the time of B’s death, is arranged alongside, providing us with a morbid yet fascinating axis of comparison regarding these two modes of memorialization.
You could say Flaubert wants distance from some obligation implied by love or friendship in this description, assumptions of certain limits the words Love and Friendship imply. While there is something almost cold about the ‘fusion of sensitivities’ Flaubert’s enthusiasm carries an excitability that can’t be explained by the intellectual detachment the assertion promotes.
It may simply underscore regard for B that Flaubert’s not found in any of his other relationships. Either way I like the idea that this affection relies on a specific convergence in time, at a particular place, and that there is no guarantee that it will repeat or endure. Still, to consider affection in this way, as something that must be started afresh each time the two meet is also disconcerting as much as it is oddly refreshing. It carries exhilaration for common ground discovered between two people at a particular time and place.
These multiple ways of valuing relationships is something I often write about. This includes the tension that arises through forms of acceptance and conflict. There is some play between anticipation and expectation. Through resistance we find out what we want and what we don’t want. Some preliminary argument seems to take place. We are at the threshold of anticipation and must find ways to proceed. In a way this is like walking a scale of imperatives.
I see the series of voices that are starting to emerge in my writing, as revealing a ‘fusion’ of various imperatives, this is kind of the life-force that drive the individual voices. A scale of imperatives play out along a scale of social interactions.