Undated text written during Said's residence in Syria between 1932 and 1934
Man has a passion to analyze and to define the logic of all concepts that come to him. He embraces with open arms criteria adopted by his peers to find out how they can be applied to the most minor of details of human life. He does so even when they involve grey areas and are surrounded by obstacles that prevent understanding and judgement through instrumentation.
Man has a passion for comparisons and for a ranking of values. Each time he faces two contradictory elements he does not rest until he has made a preference for one or the other; or rather, until he has justified his preference based on his desires and inclinations. Thus he can only satisfy his intellectual search for some shadow of a physical manifestation caused by an intervention of the soul. The latter we know full well obeys different criteria than those of logic; criteria which appear to be evident only if we move away from the material (world) and put more emphasis on the realm of pure emotions.
You will agree that love is something beyond the reach of the physical; that it is not subjected to rules of the mind and reason. Those rules are inapplicable to the vague feelings that are rooted inside us and perched on the wings of our highest conceptions of existence and life. You will equally agree that true friendship has feelings that are no less as strong as those that love provides in terms of emotion and affection.
The only point left for discussion is the statement that no matter how strong a feeling is, it can not be superior to that of love. But if I were to say that friendship is capable of being ranked at a level far higher than love, you would contradict me and refuse to acknowledge that one can have such a deep attachment for a true friend. Nor would you accept that this attachment is able to compete with all the other tendencies that determine behavioral instincts and impulses.
I do not intend to submit this point for discussion today. I will defer the debate until the circumstances are appropriate. For now, I will confine this talk to a quick comparison between the two subjects of my title. I will avail myself of a particular occasion which awakens a memory about love and friendship. It makes me relive the past with all the power of its sincerity and evokes certain scenes dear to me to which I now devote an hour of my time.
I experienced this occasion while I read a chapter from a book on love. I asked myself why dozens of books are written about love and wondered why love has remained a part of the realm of poetry for such a long period of human history, never leaving this realm but for brief periods and then returns back quickly. Meanwhile friendship and the feelings it provokes in humankind is watermarked by a few hastily drawn and incidental lines in the literature bequeathed to us by the ancients. Lines that forever disappear in one wink.
I posed this question to a friend who denied the difference by saying:
"What is the difference between love and friendship? Love is friendship and friendship is love."
I wore a big smile and retorted:
"Have you tasted these two feelings to be so hasty in your judgement?"
"I have experienced friendship but not love".
"Then you know friendship only in a superficial way"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that you know friendship in its most simple form and have not lived it in depth. The friendship that I compare to the love between the sexes is the power of attraction that makes man search for one goal: to see two minds associate so as to produce a result that fuses them together."
"Your comments are ambiguous."
"It is true that I'm expressing myself in a cryptic manner. But why do you say you know friendship when such simple comments create difficulties for you to grasp their sense and prevent you from seeing clearly what is being said to you?"
"I have difficulties understanding because you speak of matters that have nothing to do with life."
"There... you have shown for the second time your inability to understand friendship. You certainly thought that what I said was an unsolvable talisman, something magical that does not apply to human life. You thought that my mind has let go of its reins and my imagination is in overflow. Is this not so?"
"Well then. Know that friendship is more profound than what you think."
"And how is this so?"
"Dear Lord, must I be a second Gabriel who slays souls and resuscitates them in another form? Must I then make you into a being who grasps that which is noble in the life of humanity once he is given the privilege to understand such feelings?"
Why am I contending with this friend in this letter to you? I know that he understands friendship like shadows running down streets; each trying to annihilate the other for a tangible cause.The discussion between him and I inside these four walls of my office is of no consequence. I prefer to talk to you with my heart and my soul.
My friend, rare are those who understand the meaning of love and exhilarate in its scope. Even more rare are those that see in friendship a tie that is not about a means to help each other and to exchange acts of obedience. The true friendship can be read about in the books by the Sufi who many (like my friend) consider too abstract and full of ambiguities.
Perhaps you have read portions or all of the works of this brotherhood who care not to live a life of expedience. On the contrary, they see in life a sensuousness that does not manifest itself in a concrete way. Instead it touches a man's feelings to the point that he's oblivious to the world around him. As you can see, I am passionate about reading Sufi literature. I jump in heart and soul each time the calls of life allow me to. You know this now that I have spoken to you at length. However you most likely fail to see the reasons that drive and attract me to these works that are both abstract and clear at the same time. It is my duty to explain this to you, my friend, if only out of my conscience and consideration for the friendship that I bear for you. I am in debt for all my sensations of the pleasurable feelings I have when I read the texts of those thirsty for the life of an eternal soul.
It was only by pure luck that I held a book and also only by chance that I opened it to a chapter dedicated to the "intimate friend." I hardly began to read the first couple of lines when I became overwhelmed. I resolved to continue reading with the hopes of finding the answer to your questions; you who denies that their writings have anything to do with feelings of friendship.
I swallowed the contents of the chapter in one gulp then finished reading the entire book. Afterward I went to the library where I was fortunate to find a set of books on Sufism. As is my habit with (texts of interest) I thoroughly leafed through each won over by the need to learn more on what they wrote about. Writers who saw life only through pure visual perception and saw existence not only through the mind but also through recourse to rituals which could appear to be tortuous to the uninitiated but are in fact proper.