There was a time when philosophers used to write treatises on friendship. One translation of the “philia” of “philosophy” is friendship. Aristotle devotes two chapters of the Nichomachean Ethics to friendship. Friendship is a key concept in Epicureanism; so much so that a life without friendship is not a life that’s not worth living. Just imagine the loneliness of the protagonist in Cast Away. It is not a lover that he imagines on the Island, but Wilson that allows him to go on. I won’t write a treatise on friendship here– though I believe it is an essential concept in philosophy; both friendship to the concept and friendship to the other –but a few things do come to mind as to why friendship is so crucial. There is, of course, the obvious dimension of friendship, especially in our alienated time where it seems that all relationships of sociality have collapsed: The world is a little less lonely, a little less dark, in friendship. In our alienated times, friendship is a space against the darkness and the nothingness; a space where there is a little bit of light.
We often speak of friendship as a certain sort of closeness or proximity, but it seems to me that the best friendships are those of distance or difference. A friendship where one heard only what is the same as oneself would be rather stale. “Malkovich! Malkovich! Malkovich!” No. A good friendship cracks your world, so that you discover the earth. A good friendship is one in which you have an encounter with alterity, difference, distance… That your world is not all that there is, that there is difference. Around that sand of difference, something accretes or comes into being that was unanticipated. A friendship is a repetition of difference, not the same. It produces something that neither could have expected out of that difference. It is an accretion-point where something else comes into being; a swirling vortex that generates an aleatory pattern.
And in friendship you find out who you yourself are. Every subject is ex-centric, decentered, other to itself. In the alterity of friendship, across that distance, you discover the values or teloi that animated you, that you didn’t even know were you, as a result of that difference or distance that somehow you surmount through dialogue and laughter and tears. Who was I? I never knew until I encountered the strangeness of my friends! And in encountering that strangeness of my friends I encountered the strangeness of myself; that what I took as obvious and for granted was itself a distance or a new continent or extraterrestrial. I came to myself through this encounter with alterity, through this distance, through this difference and could only know what it was across distance.
Of myself, this I know: that without dialogue, which is another name for difference, I am unable to think and that my thought unfolds in the dimension of friendship or that difference with others with whom I talk. I come to know that even in my soliloquies, I am talking with an-other in friendship or across a difference.