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.