On the meaning of friendship

In slight disagreement with the much-circulated definitions, I think that it is a mistake to see true friendship as the occasion where – in the presence of another person – “one can be oneself”. In my opinion, such an account mischaracterises the realities of self and being because nothing, be it person or thing, is ever really stable enough to know who or what they are, as if they were a single unit resistant to change, spontaneity and the general chaos of difference. Instead, I prefer to see friendship in its strongest sense as marked by a time and space, shared between two or more people, in which one is allowed to be no-one because, there, one is not obliged to be some-one. Basically, where and when the all-consuming stress of self-stabilisation – which preoccupies most social relations – is relieved rather than resumed in the presence of another person, the self has found a friend in that person, indeed.

In a world where most social relations demand specific identities at specific times and castigate deviations from those, surely the greatest social relation, friendship of the highest type, must be the doing away of such demands, the clearing away of the need to be someone or something distinct. It is not so much that each person has one true identity which is constantly being suffocated by all the social roles that have to be performed, but that, in reality, a person is just a cacophonous mess of different, all in all uncategorisable, people, sporadically, spontaneously spurting from the same body, and friendship becomes the vital opening of a gap within the quasi-oppressive social whole, not so that the one true self can be whatever it thinks it should be (which more or less sounds like yet another imposition of the same oppressive whole), but actually so that this complicated body of self can finally, freely sing out of all tune and trust the audience to dance, in the special harmony that comes from shared atonality.

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