After puzzling through the two notions of friendship put before us, I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons to Excommunication. I wonder of the figures of Hermes and Iris might provide a means of unpacking Cicero and Derrida’s understandings of friendship, respectively.
Cicero’s ideal friendship, one that is defined by “accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection,” at first seems to be one characterized by closeness; yet much of how he tests and refines that definition relies on a sort of suspicion (5). A great deal of the text is devoted to characterizing what is not friendship or who is not a friend. Friendship does not “spring from the hope of gain” (8). Friends who fail to live up to the standards of virtue are no friends at all, so “you should love your friend after you have appraised him” (19). Essentially, Cicero’s entire approach operates on applying hermeneutics and symptomatic to human relationships.
Derrida’s approach, conversely, seeks to enable an all-encompassing nearness that corresponds with Iris. The strict application of standards like Cicero’s can create the friend/enemy dichotomy, and he seems opposed to the notion of any definition of friendship that seeks to exclude. He calls for us “to think and live the quiet rigor of friendship, the law of friendship as the experience of a certain a-humanity.” The question of “who” our friends are, in and of itself one defined by Hermes’ standing on the border between us and other, “moves off into the distance” (386). He calls for a democracy that embodies “an experience of equality,” in which friendship is not a bond between one and another, but rather a bond between one and all around him. This model of friendship leaves room for the universal warmth and iridescence that Cicero’s lacks; it operates on the same principles, but demand that those principles be put into practice on a political level instead of tested on an individual level.
The treatment of secondary characters is essential to the construction of many of the letters in Ovid’s Heroides. As the women of “lesser” value take the stage, Ovid grants them distinct and intricate voices. They long to communicate with their distant men and to make their opinions and assertions tangible. But they are not the same. No, absolutely not! And it is this variety of women that gives the complication its true power. The correspondences would be rather forgettable if not for their blatantly contrasting personalities. Yes, the letters often deal with love. Yes, they frequently deal with desire. And yes, the theme of infidelity reemerges. But these are not simply the musing of the same woman tossed into various household and relationships. The messages strikes different chord that, when layered, creates a thick enmeshing. There is an accumulatory effect that leaves the reader well aware of the diversity within women (and men): Penelope reiterates the prevalence of fickleness. Phyllis succumbs to unwise love, and finds refuge in nature. Briseis fears loneliness. Old Phaedra plays innocent. Oenone grapples with an affair. Hypsipyle allows power and love to tear apart her heart. Dido challenges Aeneas to find a better match. Hermoine whimpers her hopelessness. Ariadne feels robbed. Canace falls pitifully to the victimhood of incest. Medea seeks revenge. Laodamia reveals an almost ideal love. Hypermestra is oppressed by virtue. Sappho loses inspiration. Helen illuminates consequences. Hero invites disaster and drowning. Cydippe selects a manipulative fool. Ah, what variety! It seems as those the female form herein in multitudinous. Ovid expands the role of a woman, not only by allowing Her to play a larger role, but to variegate Her identity; she is sharp and soft, witty and naive, powerful and weak. As an amalgamation, She reminds the absent men of the world (past and present) that Her treasures are abundant and waiting to be recognized.
For this first week, I am disheartened by the fact that I will not be able to attend class on Tuesday night. Nevertheless, my mandatory excommunication has got me thinking. Perhaps it is my excommunication that incipits your excommunication. I can write here, on this blog, yet any response that one wishes to share during class becomes directed not at me, but at my other classmates, at you. My statements and questions are simultaneously invitations and exclusions. The door is locked open, such that our anti-conversation remains full of potential (e.g. what we can say) and restriction (e.g. what we can’t share). Therefore, I begin and end with a simple question: What influence does my empty seat have on class discussion tonight?