Rethinking friendship

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.

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3 thoughts on “Rethinking friendship

  1. Tim,

    I agree, Derrida seems to problematize our entire understanding of friendship with his apostrophe: “There is not yet friendship, we have not yet begun to think friendship” (384). I wonder if Derrida has not addressed “friends” because there is no suitable concept of “friendship” yet. This “friendship” is as you quote the “law of friendship as the experience of a certain a-humanity, beyond or before the dealings of gods and men” (386). He seems to want to move away from a conception of “politics” as “polemological” and “oppositional.” This desire for a conception of a politics defined by a conception of a friendship currently beyond suggests for me not immanence – a quality he associates with Montaigne on 385 – but rather xenocommunication, or the desire to think something beyond the current media schema. The idea of the “universal” suggests the furies, and Wark’s assertion that all communication suggests the inability to communicate with totality (right? Maybe?) – I don’t have Excommunication in front of me. I can’t really move forward on this as my individual thoughts exist, but am keen to hear how others might think through this.

  2. I find it interesting that Excommunication and these essays on Friendship approach their topics as if they are completely new, as if all other conceptions of the subject matter were completely deficient. If “we have no begun to think of friendship,” then what have we been thinking about. Perhaps this is a clever rhetorical device. Perhaps, like most books that the critics call “a masterpiece,” they are trying to separate themselves from the pack, but in doing so, become part of a different pack, an endless collective of those who consider their ideas revolutionary and fresh. That said, these reflections of Friendship do stir up interesting questions: How do Friendship and Enmity coexist and feed off of one another? Is Friendship an external or internal condition? How does one’s relationship with himself inform his relationship with the Other?

  3. Tim,

    As you’ve pointed out Cicero uses a lot of negatives to communicate what friendship is. Could this be a form of Dionysian communication? In order to tell us what friendship is he must understand friendship, he must commune with the idea of friendship. He can only approach this task by stripping away human motivations one by one.

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