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Thursday, 11 February 2010

Moral Primer IV: O my friends, there is no friend; O my foes, there is no foe

The great English visionary poet William Blake wrote that "opposition is true friendship" [in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 1793], and the paradoxical nature of friendship is central to much ethical thought. Here I explore the somewhat pernicious views of the philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) on the subject.


Friend or Foe?
"It was a Sparing Speech of the Ancients to say, That a frend is another Himselfe: for that a frend is farre more then Himself."
[Sir Francis Bacon, Of Frendship 1625] (1)
Bacon's words, in their Elizabethan dress, look quaint to the modern eye - just as did the 16th century French of Montaigne's own essay On Friendship [De l'amitié 1580] (2) to Derrida, moving him to cull from it the saying;
"O my friends, there is no friend." (3)
In the Bacon, the spelling 'Frend' evokes its opposite, 'Fiend' - only one letter makes all the difference!
It is this paradoxical quality found also in the saying from Montaigne, which suggests the reading of the latter as;
'O my friends, there are only fiends!'
That 'friend' and 'fiend' may share the same etymological parentage [and from 'fiend' we get 'foe' (4)] almost implicates one in a crime; the crime of hating one's friends, of biting the hand that feeds.
The ethical implications of friendship are all too apparent - and problematic.
1) Bacon p. 76 cf. Derrida 1997 p. 306 note 6
2) Montaigne p. 214 Essay 28
3) Derrida 1887 p. 1 passim
4) Skeat p. 156



Rumour and Account
Derrida wrote;
"The spokesman of another, I have reported his words, which belong in the first place (a question of tone, syntax, of a gesture of speech, and so on) to a slightly archaic language, itself unsettled by the memory of borrowed or translated speech. Having signed nothing, I have assumed nothing on my own account."
[Oligarchies: Naming, Ennumerating, Counting] (5)
Here Derrida plays on the word "count" [Latin computare, from com-, + putare, to consider];hence the words "on my own ac-count" [L. compter, to count].
He had begun the piece itself by quoting from Montaigne's essay, and so being "the spokesman of another" and having "reported his words".
Asking how many of us there are listening to him, and whether that "counts" [in the sense of 'matters'] and "how can you count" them, he then describes the quotation itself ["O my friends, there is no friend"] saying the words on either side of the comma have an "en-counter" [L. contra, against], which offer the "possibility of a contretemps" [French contre-, counter (i.e., contra) + temps, time (unlucky or embarrassing occurrence, unexpected mishap)].
This due to the obvious paradox the terms make by violating the Aristotelian 'law of non-contradiction'.
Derrida also puns on the word 'account', suggesting that he has spoken only [the text derives from a seminar he gave] and has therefore "signed nothing" [the word 'sign' here resonates, as in 'sign-ification', relating to his parenthetical remark on "tone, syntax and gesture"] on his "own account" [as in a figurative sense of 'reckoning of debit and credit'], and that the "account" [as in 'narration, report, description'] is not his but Montaigne's.
The latter wrote in a "slightly archaic" form of 16th century French as we have noted, and was himself quoting a saying purported to be from Aristotle - although it appears in none of his works, and so may be the result of an aural report, a lost work, a mistranslation or else be apochryphal.
Montaigne's probable source, according to Screech's annotation of the Essays, is Erasmus' Apophthegmata, although the ultimate source must be Diogenes Laertius' Live and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers [3rd century AD] . So the saying could be from "memory", be "borrowed", or "translated".

The Bacon quote then serves as a foil to the Montaigne for another reason, as the former revolves around "a saying ascribed to Pythagoras and used by Aristotle".(6)
A rumoured saying, as Pythagoras - like Socrates - "did not set down his notions in writing, nor did his early followers".
But unlike Socrates, he did not have a Plato to immortalise his utterances, making it "difficult to discover the original Pythagoras". (7)
And likewise, the saying from Montaigne has dubious attribution as "the citational rumour does not seem to have any origin." (8)

Sir Francis Bacon

5) Derrida 1997 p. 2
6) Bacon (West's notes) p. 211
7) Barnes p. 81
8) Derrida 1997 p. 77

Nietzsche's Twist
Such sayings, without a definitive source are protean; they take on a life of their own - and so they twist and turn in their meaning.
Already paradoxical, the vertiginous saying is given a complete inversion by Nietzsche, who writes;
"'Friends, there are no friends!' thus said the dying sage;
"'Foes, there are no foes!' say I, the living fool." (9)
And so Nietzsche, in the guise of the 'living fool' performs the supreme act of torsion out of which Derrida will wring his own ethics. But this is no mere playing with paradoxes, as "the inversion and the vertigo are not sophisms". (10) This because, "from its first word to itself, friendship inverts itself". (11)
I propose, therefore, to look at Derrida's attempt to base an ethics upon this composite and necessarily mirrored saying of Aristotle/Nietzsche; 'O my friends, there is no friend; O my foes, there is no foe', as friendship promises to give a microcosmic model of the ethical, if we assume that by extrapolating from the friend we arrive at the ethical community.

9) Nietzsche 1986 section 376
10) Derrida 1997 p. 129
11) ib. p. 53

Kantian Friendship
There are certain general features of friendship which we can draw; i.e., that friends must treat each other not as means to an end, but as ends in themselves [cf. Kant's second categorical imperative, for example]. Therefore, in this view, friendship must be between equal 'persons' sharing a mutual respect.
Does this mean that unequals cannot be friends?

That this is so will be explored later on in relation to 'woman'. And the acceptance of inequality as fact of life [as in Nietzsche] must mean that friendship cannot be a model for morality in the wider sense.
Friends must be just, one to the other, and yet eschew any notion of a contract. (12)
And upon such an idyllic picture of friendship is 'civility' based; and yet even Kant thought that such 'civility' to be superficial form of ritualised deceit, leading him too, to quote Aristotle's paradoxical saying. (13)

12) Scruton, entry on 'Friendship'.
13) Derrida 1997 p. 274

Is friendship then, an illusion devised to distract us from the all too prevalent fiendishness of mankind?
Derrida notes that the "great canonical meditations on friendship" in Western philosophy "belong to the experience of mourning, in the moment of loss." (14)
This canon also privileges the 'brother' - in the sense of 'brotherhood', or 'brethren' - the naming of the friend as 'brother'. (15)
But who is this 'brother'? He is not a blood-brother, but the friend. The question then becomes, not, "'what is friendship'? but who is the friend?

Who is it? Who is he? Who is she?" (16)
... She ..?

14) Derrida 1997 p. 290
15) ib. p. 291
16) ib. p. 294

Who is the friend?
This 'who?' of the friend is of prime importance as it "exceeds even the interest in knowledge, all forms of knowledge, truth, proximity, and even as far as life itself, and the memory of life." (17)
From this 'who?' derives the ethical outlook which is based on character [see the  next section on 'virtue ethics'].
Could it be that the 'who?' of the friend is another himself as Bacon has it, and that ethics, ultimately - like friendship - has a "special significance in relation to self-understanding ... the Nietzschean 'coming to be what one is'."? (18)
In a letter to a friend, Nietzsche wrote that;
"Pindar says somewhere, 'Become the being you are!'" (19)
Note the same rumoured attribution of a paradoxical and ancient saying - a saying Nietzsche was to use as the subtitle for his autobiography Ecce Homo. (20)

17) Derrida 1997 p. 294
18) Edwards p. 41-62, 'The Future of Ethics'
19) Nietzsche 1996 p. 183 [letter to Lou von Salome]
20) Nietzsche 2005B p. 69


Virtue Ethics
In Greek, the word 'ethics' (cf. Greek ἠθικός) relates, as aforesaid, to the character and habits of a a person - i.e., who he was.

We might be tempted to draw the distinction between 'ethics' and 'morals' here, where the latter is seen as duty-based [and so associated with the Kantian outlook], while the former is virtue-based ['virtue' as in Greek ἀρετή, meaning 'excellence, good quality, good disposition'], and is exemplified in the ethical treatises of Aristotle.
[See my A Morality Primer: Western Philosophy  on this blog]

Derrida and Deconstruction
However, we have already seen that Derrida touches on both of these approaches and cannot be easily down to either of them - indeed, he would not even recognise such 'approaches'.

But then a philosopher of Deconstruction is unlikely to be too easy to pin down. In his 'Letter to a Japanese friend' of 1983, Derrida writes that, "in spite of appearances, deconstruction is neither an analysis nor a critique ...
"Deconstruction is not a method and cannot be transformed into one ...
"It must also be made clear that deconstruction is not even an act or an operation ...
"Deconstruction takes place, it is an event that does not await the deliberation, consciousness, or organisation of a subject, or even of a modernity. It deconstructs it-self. It can be deconstructed ...
"What deconstruction is not? everything of course!
"What is deconstruction? nothing of course!.." (21)
We hear in this final chiasmus the spectral echo of all the rumoured sayings we have looked at so far.
Cutrofello's article on Derrida says that "deconstruction is concerned with the category of the 'wholly other'." And from that concern, Derrida attempts - among other things - to develop a 'radically different conception of ethical responsibility."

However, we are warned that this is none other than an attempt to "conjure 'an experience of the impossible'." (22)
And yet we might think that Derrida's ethics - as we shall see - do not live up to this espoused radicalism.

21) Derrida 1991 p. 270-6
22) Cutrofello p. 896

Derrida and Aristotle
In Derrida, we will not find the meaning of ethics - and nor should we expect to so find it. Derrida would say that we could not find 'the meaning' of ethics, or of anything else, for that matter, as 'meaning' is endlessly deferred.
It is in this spirit that Derrida looks at the ethical perspectives offered in the works of Aristotle, Nietzsche, and others, for "the question of friendship might well be at least an example or a lead in the two major questions of 'deconstruction': the question of the history of concepts ... and the concept of phallogocentrism. Here qua phratrocentrism." (23)
'Phallogocentrism' is the privileging of the masculine (phallus) in the construction of meaning, while 'phratrocentrism' (from Greek φρατήρ meaning "brother"), is hence a privileging of brotherhood. Therefore friendhip is seen as a means of privileging male power.
Aristotle is central here as, Derrida asks rhetorically, "since when ... have we ceased to be Aristotle's heirs?" (24)
Generally speaking, Aristotle thinks that men aim at their own eudaimonia, and thus his ethics have been seen as particularly 'self-centred'. (25) It is only in his discourses on friendship that anything resembling an altruistic position is taken up.
But man cannot do without friendship, he being, to Aristotle, a "political creature", and it is therefore in his "nature to live with others." (26)
Ross maintains that Aristotle's ethical theory is "an attempt to break down the antithesis between egoism and altruism by showing that the egoism of a good man has just the same characteristics as altruism." (27)

23) Derrida 1997 p. 278 
24) ib. p. 7
25) Ross p. 230-2
26) Aristotle Nicomathean Ethics Bk. IX 9, 15 1169b [in Aristotle p. 423] Here we might note Carl Schmitt's conception of politics being defined by what he called the friend/enemy dichotomy;
"The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy ..." [...] "The antithesis of friend and enemy corresponds to the relatively independent criteria of other antitheses: good and evil in the moral sphere, beautiful and ugly in the aesthetic sphere and so on." Schmitt p. 26
27) Ross ib.

Love and Death
For Aristotle, "there is good self-love as well as bad: the question is what sort of self it is that you love." (28)
The 'who?' again.
Derrida notes that the lover - he who loves, dominates the beloved - he who is being loved, in the Aristotelian friendship; even to the point of the beloved being negated;
"Life, breath, the soul, are always and necessarily found on the side of the lover or of loving, while the being-loved of the lovable can be life-less." (29)
And thus, death itself haunts the Aristotelian concept of friendship as an unwelcome guest;
"I could not love friendship without engaging myself, without feeling myself in advance, engaged to love the other beyond death." (30)
Here we have the Derridean deconstruction-event: eudaimonia has death at its heart, not happiness, "for one does not survive without mourning. No one alive can get the better of this tautology." (31)
Mourning the death of the friend is mourning the knowledge of my own death. The friend himself implies by his friendship my own death. Survivor or survived, mourner or mourned, inescapable death is made palpable by friendship: "it is the grieved act of loving." (32)
Mourning may be due to the underlying violence in friendship;
"A violent person seeks the other - the other is an abyss: the non-violent seeks the highs and peaks - self ..." [...]
"One who has sorrow and pain inside searches the other - be it friend, a foe, anyone at all so that his inner dissatisfaction, violence can find an object for release." (33)

28) Ross ib.
29) Derrida 1997 p. 10
30) ib. p. 12
31) ib. p. 13
32) ib. p. 14
33) Chaitanya pp. 96-7

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-95) sees the same threat of violence in the Self/Other relation in Heidegger's philosophy;
"The partial negation which is violence denies the independence of beings: they are mine ... [...]
"The meeting with the other person consists in the fact that, despite the extent of my domination over him and his submission, I do not possess him". (34)
In the first part of the above, prior to the lacuna, Levinas alludes to the Heideggarian understanding of other beings; an understanding which only "names them", and thereby possesses them: "they are mine".
It therefore has "power" over them. and so does violence to them. (ib.)

This violence, according to Levinas, is due to the inability of the understanding to grasp the 'Self-Other' relation as a whole; so by only being able to comprehend a part of that relation - i.e., the Self, it negates the remainder of it. Thus it violates the totality of the Other and so does violence to him.
So Heidegger is guilty - along with the general trend in Western philosophy - of wanting to "subordinate" the "particular to the knowledge of the Universal". (35)
But it is only when I have "overlooked the universal being" of the Other that I can meet him as a "particular" (36) and therefore "independent" being. So the relation with the other being is not an 'ontology'; it is rather an ethical invocation - a "meeting" - which both precedes and avoids the understanding with all its attendant possession and violence.
The second part after the lacuna states that even in this invocational meeting there is a relation of "dominance" and "submission" between Self and Other respectively. This is due to the power of the Self's vision which meets the visage of the Other. But unlike the Heideggarian naming, it does not seek to "possess" the other, as it cannot 'deny him partially' (37). This is because it is an equal "face-to-face" relation which "signifies ... the infinite resistance of being to our power." (38)



34) Levinas 1998 p. 9
35) ib. p. 5
36) ib. p. 7
37) ib. p. 9
38) ib. p. 10

The Pathos of Distance
It took Nietzsche, over 2,000 years later, to put the Aristotelian aporia into the mouth of the 'dying sage', Nietzsche's conception of friendship and ethics was, similar to Aristotle's, an aristocratic one - although far more radical in Nietzsche's case. For him, the quality of 'distance' was absolutely necessary - a distance not too conducive to friendship.
In his aforementioned autobiography, Ecce Homo, he notes;
"You go up to people, you greet your friends: new wastelands, there is nothing welcoming in any of their looks. At best, a type of revolt. I have experienced revolts like this from almost everyone who has ever been close to me, although to very different degrees; it seems that nothing is more insulting than suddenly letting a distance be felt - noble natures who do not know how to live without admiring are few and far between." (39)
The pathos of distance as Nietzsche called it, is picked up on by Derrida when he quotes Nietzsche's 'Star friendship' aphorism;
"Let us then believe in our star friendship even if we must be enemies." (40)
Friends who have become enemies are by their very distance [from here to the stars, and of the time it takes their light to reach us] still friends at a distance, while being enemies when brought into close proximity: O friend, there is no friend.

39) Nietzsche 2005B p. 128
40) Nietzsche 2001 p. 159

Zarathustra On Friendship
But what of Zarathustra's discourse 'On the Friend'? (41)
In his notes, Parkes points out a saying from Emerson's essay, 'Friendship', which had a great influence on Nietzsche. It reads;
"Let your friend be to thee for ever a sort of beautiful enemy", (42) and this is the crux of Zarathustra's view of friendship, which says that, "one should honour even the enemy in one's friend." (43)
Nietzsche, the self-proclaimed 'Anti-Christian', has Zarathustra inversely mirror the "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you" (Luke 6:27) of Christianity, it becoming something like, "hate your friends, do ill to them that love you."
Derrida touches upon an aspect of Zarathustra's discourse which is "wholly other", and this is the attitude to woman. "Beginning with Zarathustra's sentences in 'Of the friend', three times over it is said that 'woman is not yet capable of friendship'," (44) and so, "incapable of friendship, enmity, justice, war, respect for other, whether friend or enemy, woman is not man; she is not even part of humanity." (45)
Here Nietzsche/Zarathustra clearly diverge, for we cannot base a Derridean ethics upon the 'exclusion' of the 'wholly other', qua woman, as we shall see in the next section.

41) Nietzsche 2005A p. 49
42) ib. p. 294
43) ib. p. 49
44) Derrida 1997 p. 281
45) ib. p. 283

This brings us to Derrida's commitment to justice, in opposition to Nietzsche who derives justice from the (slave) feeling of revenge and priestly ressentiment. (46)
Derrida desires an ethics which rejects the 'violent exclusion of otherness', because "from his earliest writings Derrida has been concerned with the relationship between justice and violence." (47)
"Derrida seeks to delineate a conception of justice as an aporia which both calls for, and is called forth by, the work of deconstruction." (48)
Deconstruction per se, by its refusal to exclude the otherness of the other, is justice itself - even though it may result in an endless deferral of difference, or différance.
To preserve this open-ended aporia is very much the burden of a deep responsibility;
"Does not the law command me to recognise the transcendent alterity of the other who can never be anything but heterogeneous and singular, hence resistant to the generality of the law?" (49)

46) Betram, chapter 4 'Justice', pp. 79-89
47) Cutrofello p. 899
48) ib.
49) Derrida 1997 p. 277

Nietzsche sees a Semitic origin to slave morality.
It is thereby an anti-aristocratic [or anti-Aryan] morality which posits equality in a cunning manner so that the weak can take over and rule the noble.
He coins the phrase "Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome" [GM I:16) to sum this up.
Levinas, a Jew and a Talmudic scholar, recognises that philosophy is aristocratic and therefore Aryan in nature. In the following extract from Levinas, "the Other" can be seen as the 'Jew' (slave moral), while Philosophy is the 'Aryan' (master moral);
"Philosophy's itinerary still follows the path of Ulysses whose adventure in the world was but a return to his native island - complacency in the Same, misunderstanding of the Other." (50)
Philosophy, like Ulysses, always returns to its 'Ithaca', a Greek island [and so isolated, like the ego] in the Ionian Seas. A need to return to philosophy's birth - the Ioninans being the 'first philosophers'. A return significantly  found in Nietzsche and Heidegger;
"Need is precisely return, the Ego's anxiety for self, egoism, the original form of identification." (51)
Whether it is the 'rigidity of the Parmenidean sphere, identical to itself', or Plato's 'remaking of the world according to the timeless order of Ideas' [while chasing away the poets of mimesis - philosophy has always distrusted poetic metaphor as it breaks out of a return to the same], Western philosophy has been indifferent to the Other, leaving the ego [=the Same] unchallenged and the "Other absorbed in the Same". (52)
But even the anti-Platonism of modern philosophy fails to 'trace' out its odyssey beyond the Ego to the Other.
Returning, once again, to Greece - this time to Heraclitus and the atomists - modern philosophers have now lost "the univocality that would authorise us to ask of them the criteria of what makes sense". (53)
There is - to Levinas - an atomisation and a lack of orientation proclaimed by Nietzsche's 'death of God'; a crisis due to the loss of monotheistic unity - and Heidegger's Being is certainly no substitute for the God of Genesis for the Jew!
So to Levinas philosophy remains trapped in its unfriendly autistic infancy, indifferent to the Other and unable to understand that the Other is already "inscribed in the Same", and unaware that the Other is the key for its escape into a "departure of no return". (54)
Derrida himself was of Jewish origins, and his ethical position is similar to that of Levinas. But whereas Levinas embraces the Law of the Talmudic teachings (55), Derrida remains committed to his sense of eternal deferment.
As he says, "the question of democracy thus opens ... there is no democracy without respect for the irreducible singularity or alterity, but there is no democracy without the 'community of friends' ... These two laws are irreducible one to  the other. Tragically irreconcilable and forever wounding." (56)

50) Levinas 2003 p. 26
51) ib. p. 29
52) ib. p. 40
53) ib. p. 24
54) ib. p. 27
55) Levinas 1998 p. 204 'Dialogue On Thinking of the Other'
56) Derrida 1997 p. 22

The Womanless Condition
Derrida's ethical concepts of an infinite and irreducible justice is an idea of the 'impossible'. An idea opened up by Aristotle's vertiginous saying, but betrayed by Aristotle's own ethics of eudaimonism; an idea taken to the extreme by Nietzsche's inversion of Aristotle's saying, but again betrayed, this time by the formers' violent exclusion of the other.
Indeed, the history of the concept of friendship in Western thought, whether it be amongst the Ancients, Christendom, or the Moderns, is dominated by a continuous thread, which therefore links these disparate eras: that of the "double exclusion of the feminine" (57) - i.e. the exclusion of the friend relationship between man and woman, and between woman and woman.
Derrida even goes so far as to say that this "womanless condition" is "philosophy itself." (58)

57) Derrida 1997 p. 281
58) ib. p. 283

The Mask of Deconstruction
So Derrida's ethics cannot be based on the philosophical outlook that has prevailed hitherto.
It will rather be an ethics that will be 'democratic' in the true sense of the word, fully inclusive, and bent on "uprooting" those "figures of friendship" both "philosophical and religious", such as "the family, and the androcentric ethnic group" which present an insurmountable barrier to this true "fraternity, freedom and equality." (59)
It is essentially the ethics of slave morality in modern dress - it only seeks to deconstruct the remnants of the aristocratic order.

59) Derrida 1997 p. 306

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