O Friends, there is only a Friend


The questions ‘What is friendship?’ and ‘What is philosophy?’ are one and the same.  This blog is based on their fundamental identity and gives an identical answer to both:  philia and philosophia are not notions or concepts but the pan and the telos of a philos.  They can only take the form of a singular friend.  The extraordinary appearance of a friend is their mode of existence.  In other words, the answer to both questions can only be somebody’s special friend, an incomparable person in one’s life, a person with whom we contemplate the sky and listen to the harmony of our shared Stimmung as time comes to a standstill and turns into Schubert.

In his Politics of Friendship (1994) Jacques Derrida confronts the fundamental question of Aristotle’s “primary friendship.”  He asks:  “What is presence for this philía próte or this teleía philía of which we have glimpsed the aporia?  ‘What is the essence of friendship?’, ‘What is a friend?’ … If we are not even close to an answer, nor perhaps to a grasp of the question as one of proximity, this is — in a principled, preliminary, both simple and abyssal way — because the question ‘what is (tí estin)’, the question of the essence or the truth, has already deployed itself, as the question of philosophy, from out of a certain experience of philein and philía.  The question ‘What is friendship?’, but also ‘Who is the friend (both or either sex)?’ is nothing but the question ‘What is philosophy?’ (1997, p. 240).

The answer to the double question can only be, particular friends, some of my or your closest friends.  That is why the descriptive subtitle of this blog mentions “friends” and not friendship.  There is no such thing as Friendship, only exceptional friends. There are lovers and then there is the larger notion and ocean of Love. There are special friends but there is no Friendship in general. That is why we fall and swim in love but not in friendship. Every extraordinary friend who comes into our lives constitutes a unique encounter and does not re-present an ideal or something else.  We simply make each other present.  As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari stress in the “Introduction” to their What is Philosophy? (1991), the philos who appears in philo-sophia “no longer stands for an extrinsic persona, an example of empirical circumstance, but rather for a presence that is intrinsic to thought, a condition of possibility of thought itself, a living category, a transcendental lived reality” (1994, p. 3).

Derrida’s seminar “The Politics of Friendship” (1988-89) focuses on an apocryphal quotation found in Diogenes Laertius’ AD3rd century compilation Lives of the Eminent Philosophers (V, 1, 21), attributed to Aristotle, and repeated by Montaigne (“On Friendship”, I, 28) and others later.  Derrida knows that the translation used in the Essais (1580) is based on corrupt Greek but makes it central to his argument because it sounds like a self-deconstructing claim:  “O friends, there are no friends”/ὦ φίλοι, οὐδεὶς φίλος.  However, Diogenes’ text attributes to Aristotle something entirely different, and certainly quite Aristotelian: “He who has (many) friends, does not have a single friend”/ᾧ φίλοι, οὐδεὶς φίλος.  O friends, one cannot have friends in general, only unrivaled friends.

I have several friends who have written or edited brilliant books on friendship, like David Konstan (Friendship in the Classical World), Gregory Jusdanis (A Tremendous Thing: Friendship from the “Iliad” to the Internet), Peter Murphy (ed., South Atlantic Quarterly 97:1), Alexander Nehamas (On Friendship), and the late Kostis Papagiorgis (Γειά σου, Ασημάκη).  I have benefited enormously from all these friends and their ideas, yet I continue to hold a late Wittgensteinian view on the matter and recognize friendship only when I see a great friend, a comrade in attunement.  Friendship is ontic, not ontological.

That is why this blog does not reflect on the abstract meaning of friendship but focuses on the exercises of a single philo-sophical collaboration, my having the pan and the telos of philos Pantelis Polychronidis as my “other self.”

November 8, 2014

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