Monday, June 04, 2007


Last Friday I finally handed in a long overdue assignment and today I sent in another shorter one. I worried about them, and at them. They filled up a lot of space in my mind. Now all that space, plus the worry (extra, bonus space...) have been cleared up and I feel like my house must feel when its rooms have been emptied. There is a strange, forlorn echo, a melancholy hollowness. But also an undeniable peace which sure enough will evaporate in no time and a certain restless expectation. Empty spaces, especially in the mind, act like vacuum, demanding to be filled.

I'm now still in the empty phase which is why I cannot tackle the grave concerns of the day, like the impending British academic boycott on Israeli academics and my fear that, due to the media-inspired anti-Israel climate of today, such vile motions will have a domino effect. Canadians are awfully insecure and will follow almost any European trend to prove to themselves that they are not like their closest and so embarrassing , kin, the Americans.

And really, I don't think I have much wisdom to add to anything that has been said by much more erudite and disciplined thinkers than myself, like Martha Nussbaum, or Shalom Lappin or Mick Hartley, or Alan Dershowitz (he is really pissed off!), and others.

So instead, I'll just post one or two excerpts from something I recently wrote about friendship. What prompted this thought is something I found today in my travels on the Internet, one of the most cruel and stupid comments one person can say to another:

"You are one of those people in the world who take up an inordinate amount of space."

And in case you wonder, no, the context did not merit such a friendly admonition, but then, as I quoted before

"There are fair-weather friends and foul-weather friends,
but the strangest friends of all
are those who display
their commitment to you
only when they publicly criticise you."

These, too, I suppose, fancy themselves friends to those they insult. Like Ruben says, they are the strangest friends of all.

Anyway, I want to speak of genuine friendship and here are just a few thoughts:

Friendship is an excellence, characterized by knowing and wisdom that most people arrive at when they are older. When we seek to know, (a human "singularity" which translates directly into the ability to grow), we try to extend ourselves across a gulf, between the known (the self) and the unknown (the other). As though the mind throws out tethered hooks to sink unto the other’s mind, and vice versa. According to Anne Carson, "When the mind reaches out to know, the space of desire opens and a necessary fiction transpires”. Between the self and the other, between the “I” and the “Thou”, that "space of desire", means that moment when alert and curious minds are jolted into acute awareness of and reaching out towards each other. The “fiction” therefore is the drama of the unmediated encounter with the other. It is a rare and splendid occurrence, from which genuine friendship, a la Montaigne, springs forth.

Friendship in our life cycle

Some of our most basic and powerful life choices are predicated upon the presence or absence of two social relationships which are uniquely human: love and friendship. When I say “love” I mean what the Greeks referred to as “Eros”, a desire stemming from sexuality which is a journey to possess, or as Montaigne articulates it: “sexual is but a mad craving for something that escapes us”. When I speak of “friendship” I mean Agape, the cool, well-aired and light-bathed Apollonian love between two keen and kindred minds.

As we progress from childhood to old age, the two concepts, Love and Friendship, tend to change considerably in their importance to our selves and in our life. Friendship is important in childhood. With the onslaught of teenage, puberty, sexual initiation and courtship, Love takes an unambiguous precedence over friendship. As we progress through life, sometime around the midpoint of a natural lifespan, we become aware, yet again, of the importance of friendship as a good, an asset, in our well being. The two forces of Love and Friendship are always present, but friendship becomes more dominant as a perceived goods in the childhood and maturity.

Canadian author L. M. Montgomery managed to capture the wonderful affirmative affect of friendship in childhood in her book “Anne of Green Gables”. Eleven-year-old lonely and orphaned Anne longs for a bosom friend and invests in her friendship with Diana all the fervour and intellectual energy of a child who had no friends before. And what child reading that story cannot relate to the desperation for an ideal friend who both affirms and endorses his/her uniqueness?

And none described friendship in more astute and uplifting prose than Montaigne, from the other end of his life. About his friendship with La Boetie:

“ If any one should demand that I give a reason why I loved someone, I feel it could no otherwise be expressed than by the answer, “Because he was he; because I was I”.

Of the interim period, that comes between Anne’s childhood friendship and Montaigne’s mature one, we can insert Jane Austen’s courtship novels, in which friendship plays a minor role and mainly a negative force upon the happiness of the heroine. Eros and Agape are in competition in her novels and Austen invariably comes down on the side of Eros.
Great friendships that are known for their uniqueness are rare. There are the literary models of Achilles and Patroclus from the Greeks; David and Jonathan from the Bible. There is the real experience from Montaigne and La Boetie. A famous modern example that comes to mind is the friendship between British novelist Martin Amis and writer/essayist Christopher Hitchens, a modern day version of Montaigne’s model of friendship, described by Amis like this: “ My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May.”
[1] There is a clear echo here, I don’t know if conscious or intended, of Montaigne’s own avowal of friendship: “The love of friends is a general universal warmth, temperate moreover and smooth, a warmth which is constant and at rest, all gentleness and evenness, having nothing sharp nor keen”.

Martin Amis: You Ask The Questions

More, maybe, later.


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