- 1 I am using (n = 2) because it is the most basic friendship paradigm. It is entirely possible to ana (...)
1For Jacques Derrida, there is only one material truth, a single, osseous nugget of reality that cannot be un-thought, dissolved or escaped, even when that evasion takes place through the sublative logic of dialectics. It is quite simply the Law of Friendship, and I abbreviate it Lof to give it the truest flavor of empirical axiom. This truth is the reality that in each dyad we label “friendship” (n = 2), one member of the couple will more likely than not outlive the other, causing the one who continues with the business of living to embark upon an odyssey of survivorship that will mark the remainder of his life as an affective travelogue complete with its own ambivalent textual productions: propitiations offered to a past order, elegies written in fluorescent chalk on the night sky, songs chanted into the wind, all bordered by the dual temptations, equally treasonous, either to glorify one’s self through the effusions of a sublime eloquence through which the praises of the departed are sung, or to remain silent, dishonoring his legacy by refusing to contribute to it, in essence erasing him from the scene of memory altogether in order to preserve him1.
- 2 By ‘metamaterial’, I refer to those materials, most of them developed under martial conditions, tha (...)
2For our species, and perhaps for others, there can be nothing more profoundly material than the Lof, which takes into account the body, longevity, projected life span and the individual relation to time, a subjectivity built on objective coordinates. I place it by the side of the Socratic truth that the root of philosophy is love, the fundamental material drive without which there would be no gravitation toward truth in the first place, only a sophisticated and scintillating sophistical play emerging from another set of motives than those we associate with the amorous (to give the weaker argument its victory, to sway public opinion for one’s private motives, to win at all costs, no matter what is being argued). Friendship and love as matter, material, maybe even metamaterial, as these inform the Derridean project from grammatology through gifting: this is where I begin, in the place where aletheia is an interpersonal reality constructed like a bouncy house2.
3The Lof is succinctly and elegantly defined by Derrida in his Politics of Friendship quote as such: «One must always go before the other». It is a law in the strictest physical and mathematical sense, and might even be called Conservation of Friendship, sitting by the side of those other famous conservations: Mass, Energy, Information, for yes, ultimately friendship is conserved, when one sums the system from all angles thermodynamically. This truth, which is not relative, nor perspectival, barring questions of witnessing it from the 11th dimension, where perhaps death will mean something else entirely, can be manipulated, but I am not convinced it can be deconstructed, if only because of the ineradicable fact of future loss inbuilt into materiality, and perhaps the reason eternity envies it, as William Blake has famously noted in his remarks on the temporalities of innocence and experience.
- 3 Blanchot comments on the efforts to neutralize the dead by making the deceased fully objective in h (...)
4The Lof dictates a loss that necessitates the advent of particular textual genres (for example, the funeral oration, the eulogy, the logos epitaphios, the obituary, the tombstone epitaph, the Festschrift) and that strikes philosophy, itself a relational discourse requiring the fruitful collaboration of minds among which knowledge emerges relationally, at the core, as it grinds dialogue to a halt through the erasure of the partner with whom ideas are shared, leaving one to speak to oneself in the corner of a crowded café like a homeless lunatic, or perhaps to dedicate one’s time to collecting letters, emails, journal entries or other repositories of the thought of the missing partner, whom we misguidedly attempt to resuscitate through a manic drive to drag everything into the light of day, where we can finally seal his borders by making him completely objective, at long last an en soi fit for the vitrine3. But the living voice cannot be resurrected, much as Artificial Intelligence can never know desire, nor the clone replicate the viability of the parent creature: and these traces are only a consolation to the historian, who optimistically clings to that belief that the past can be recovered in the present, made to live again. It cannot.
- 4 I refer to the Calabi-Yau space as homage to physicist Brian Greene, whose Elegant Universe explore (...)
5For if knowledge exists between/among and not within/without minds, as relational epistemology might argue in its logic of decontainment, then it is the death of one member of the dyad that arrests the flow of this fragile, immaterial knowledge, which would seem to dissipate, breaking free of the negentropic bubble that had insulated and protected it, seeping out into the extra-dyadic space, the place outside friendship, the cubbyhole in which amitié finds itself comfortably nested, the secret wing of the Calabi-Yau Manifold in which its hidden dimensions unfold to reveal the crystalline core of a wisdom radically material, yet unconcerned with the flowering of facts in their facticity, which is to say: situated somewhere between the transcendental and the empirical, the speculative and the scientific, that which leaves matter behind and that which restricts itself to cold descriptives correlating facts with propositional pictures of those states of affairs summing up a world and facilitating a world-view4.
6To say “unconcerned” is a bit of rhetorical mischief, of course: the illustrious philosophical friendships shared by Blanchot and Bataille or Montaigne and La Boétie, an affection running parallel to the philosophical love taught by Diotima to Socrates in Symposium, for example, are not untethered islands of paradise wafting through the ether in the Shangri-la of a homosocial bromance built on propositional knuckle-bumps; they are rather the epistemic occasions for fertile minds to blossom through cross-pollination, and hence there is a deep Derridean concern for the matter from which facts, including the coordinates of an existence, are constructed. And yet for matter to give rise to the material, or the fact to produce facticity, there must be a movement via the physical that strays from the physical only to return to it, which is not necessarily to involve metaphysics or the paranormal, but is definitely to locate the play of ideas in the interpersonal, where the very texture of love’s language makes possible an experimental sifting and sorting which transcends the tiresome repetitiveness of the digital series but is not by nature dialectical, although it is clearly dialogic, even maieutic, the figure of the midwife never entirely leaving the scene of meaning, over which she patiently presides. Here, there is no agonistic play, at least according to the standard set by Lyotard in his The Differend, a book famously discussed by Derrida in his words to the departed philosopher-friend in his Work of Mourning, since the only real standard of judgment is an initial assessment of whom we admit to this rarefied, holy dialogue, obviating the need for a third party who sits outside the discussion to judge it from the lofty comfort of his or her metalinguistic n+1, that advanced level of discourse from which it is possible to make a pronouncement determining which combatant has won the skirmish in truth’s agonizing battle for territory and tribute.
7Ironically enough, for Socrates, materialists are unfit for the non-agonistic dialogue taking place between and among friends, depending upon how many of us have been granted permission to enter the charmed arena of philosophical friendship, as they are not sufficiently civilized to qualify as worthy of this species of debate, which requires equanimity, fortitude, stamina and a true love of wisdom, not merely its shimmering effects (i.e., wearing the laurels of the winner, being publicly lauded as genius, delivering the most brilliant oration, etc.). In fact, the materialists, crass beyond words, as they reduce everything to the bodily or the atomic, are not permitted to speak, and may only be spoken about, never acceding to the status of addressor as they remain locked in the silent position of referent, seedy people about whom we dish endlessly, yet never solicit to contribute their own words, philosophical Pretty Women we cannot gentrify:
For instance, one can dialogue with the friends of forms, they are better ‘domesticated’ than the materialists who reduce everything to the body. The latter would have to be ‘civilized’ before they could be admitted to dialogue. But in fact, there is no question of this. One will act as if they are civilized; one speaks in their place, one reinterprets their theses, one makes them presentable for dialogue (Lyotard 1998: 24).
8Dialogue is alive, an organism in its own right, if, for example, we invoke the concept of autopoiesis in evolutionary biology and systems theory and apply it to the life of the idea — but like most luxuries, it is not for everyone, and of course not for the faint of heart, exclusive activity requiring a qualifying intelligence and openness.
- 5 In “Economimesis,” Derrida coins the term exemplorality, or exemplary orality, then uses it to disc (...)
9Philosophy is no exception to the rule that the delicacy be disgusting, unpalatable, a challenge to ingest, and digest: something even exemplary orality reviles in the extreme exemplorality of excrescent aesthetics, as Derrida discusses in his work on the sublime and its relation to the emetic in his “Economimesis”: and friendship, with its dialogic matrix, is clearly something for which few of us would possess the taste, since it is fundamentally material, meaning that it presents resistances, challenges, counter-desires and does not always consent to our wishes, which will more likely than not find themselves menaced5. For each friendship is an exotic blossom in a pataphysical gaden: shared by few, understood by even fewer, and in essence a true philosophical object alongside the love without which even the word “philosophy” would not be possible to construct etymologically. And while its material might be biographical, medical, even jurisprudential, depending on the course friendship takes, and where exactly it plays out in the public sphere – for example, when it materializes in Probate Court through that vestige known as a Last Will and Testament: the Anna Nicole Paradigm – it calls forth the immaterial at every turn to buoy it up and bolster the case either for or against it. The two themselves are in constant dialogue, anything but opposites or rivals, the one the substratum of the other, each the occasion for the other to surface: conceptual friends, if ideas may be permitted affiliation or affinity, these two approaches to matter and energy, somethingness and nothingness, the zero of no-matter and the one of all-matter, a Nichomachean Big Bang in the making.
- 6 I borrow the term “Bae” from the memes of contemporary social media, where it is an even more famil (...)
- 7 See the book Margulis wrote with her son by Carl Sagan, Dorian Sagan, Dazzle Gradually. Co-creator (...)
- 8 For Arendt, the Fact of Birth is a fundamental challenge to the totalitarian, as it necessarily mea (...)
10While matter structures and supports the types of advanced awareness that friendship requires as pre-requisite, it does not demand anything in terms of cognizance, completely oblivious to its fame. It is certainly tempting to read all forms of natural collaboration as friendship; for example, evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis’ work on bacteriological symbiogenesis seems to indicate the existence of a primordial drive to cooperate among unicellular organisms, to fuse altruism with egotism in the quest for multicellular complexity, and even Richard Dawkins’ notorious Selfish Gene comprehends intuitively the need to work together to achieve the greater end of its transmission7. The danger is for the subject to alienate itself in the object in order to transcend it, as happens within Geist’s dialectic in Hegel, since this move forestalls true collaboration and friendship, making partnership a parasitic game of méconnaissances that matter only insofar as they contribute negatively to identity, which is driven forward by frustration. At bottom, matter does not necessarily require the complexity of thetic consciousness in order for it to exist and exert the encumbrances and resistances faced by extension, as these complete the hodological map outlined by Sartre in his anatomy of nothingness, the ideal cartography of figure and ground, force and object, boson and fermion. For no matter what, there will be this generous “There Is” that is the world into which our birth figures as fact, something Hannah Arendt recognizes in her Origins of Totalitarianism as the most serious threat to totalitarian closure. Whether or not we productively orient ourselves to it and elevate it to the status of a principle or rail against it through stunning feats of counter-production, as happens with Deleuze and Guattari’s id-like Cso and its rebellion against worlding, we must countenance the grossly unmanageable magnanimousness of this openness, which like the Trobriand potlach offends through effulgent beneficence raised to the level of the destructive8.
- 9 For example, in his Remarks on the Philosophy of Mathematics, Wittgenstein introduces the idea that (...)
11The enchained emanations of exuberance that define Neoplatonic creation; the selfless effusions of a donative consciousness as discussed in Derrida’s Given Time I: Counterfeit Money; the mere aftereffects of two membranes colliding, as M Theory would have it: these all define the generosity of the There Is, which precedes me, gives birth to me and makes of my life a gift I can never repay no matter what, not even through suicide, which is either giving or taking a life via the ammbivalent logic of extreme human gifting. I say “no matter what” vis-à-vis the intransigence and inexorability of the “There Is,” and yet the spectre of solipsism still looms, as it does in Wittgenstein, who lobbied bravely on behalf of the absurd for the inexorable to become something we actually might be able to doubt without being labeled out of our minds or relegated to the primitive mentality of the Wild Tribe: consciousness discloses a world as much as it encloses it, making it possible that friendship is but one collective hallucination among many9. Perhaps solipsism is merely the refusal of the admission that I owe such a grand and exorbitant debt to the There Is, which has given me everything, materially, and to which I am beholden through an ontological and existential gratitude that is the ideal and true basis for friendship, much as primal repression might create subsequent repressions, or primary narcissism set the pattern for secondary: I am merely paying it forward, thanking the There Is by enriching my partner, who becomes the site of this rich remuneration, a surrogate for the universe, and one to whom I essentially give thanks for my thrownness in the first place, this despite the fact that he has had no involvement in my coming to be, this special universal screen who dispels solipsism by becoming my friend and opening himself to me via the most fundamental hospitality.
- 10 The musical reference is to the track “Missing” (Blanco y Negro 1994) by downtempo duo Everything B (...)
12It is more than possible to survive with a pre-reflective, a-thetic consciousness which uses the types of instinct discussed by Bergson in his Creative Evolution simply to respond effectively and in a time-sensitive manner to stimuli that present themselves in an environment, even a human one: this scenario would be survival, but it would never be survivorship, which takes as its substrate friendship and its material and immaterial substances things like the fact of a street address, in the case of a missing loved one (The Everything But the Girl Scenario), to the ghostly voice of vengeance, in the case of the accusatory spirit (The Hamlet Scenario)10. When it emerges in the history of consciousness, even when that history involves the companion species, that alternate, cross-species site of feline friending and canine cathexis, it is the thetic which gives human beings the perspective on nature, allowing them to turn it to their advantage so adaptively – for example, taking a companion species and selecting it to the favoritism of unnatural selection – in general exploiting it in ways unthinkable to other species not because they don’t think, but because they do not think their positionality all the way through, as thetic consciousness requires in its departure from the pre-reflective consciousness Sartre lays at the base of human thought, those glorious, autoerotic days preceding our ability to take up the productive perspective on ourselves demanded by a narcissism which can see the body as a whole (and hence other bodies as similarly solid).
13For Julia Kristeva, it is thetic awareness which permits linguistic revolution to occur, its disseminations, or distributions without return, being the product of a mind that is able to situate itself productively in its being-in-the-world, which is to say that it is poised to formalize its existence through a meditation on prepositionality that gives it the advantage of being able to link itself to other existents through these tiny, weight-bearing, inter-material words without which it would be impossible to convey the many relations that comprise the relationality of the social grammar. The conversations of mourning especially frustrate the preposition, as I am forced to speak about the one to whom I wish to address my words: from the standpoint of what I am calling social grammatology, it is simply no longer possible for me to bear this relation to the word “to,” and I am shunted along the avenue of the “about” or the “for,” the only prepositions that will allow my words to adhere to the absent surface of the nonexistent (or alternately existing) friend, he for whom there are no more true uses of the “to,” outside of the dedicatory, as when a park bench is dedicated to someone who has passed, or when one writes a poem to an expired lover. As Derrida explains in his adieu to his philosopher-friend and philosophical friend Emmanuel Levinas:
- 11 In addition: «When I say Roland Barthes it is certainly him whom I name him beyond his name. But si (...)
Concerned only with itself, such speech would, in this return, risk turning away from what is here our law — the law as straightforwardness or uprightness [droiture], to speak straight on, to address oneself directly to the other, and to speak for for other whom one loves and admires, before speaking of him (Derrida 2001: 200)11.
14Of him. Another preposition that is also a proposition, this “of” forever casting the subject in the role of object.
15In advance of the thetic, there is matter, yet not materiality; substance, and yet no materialists to assimilate reality to it (hence nothing substantial, no philosophical sustenance, so many wasted calories that defy the investments and expenditures of intellectual metabolism). The question is not «If a tree falls in the forest without a witness, does it make a sound?» or «Is there such a thing as a gas chamber?» (Lyotard’s question par excellence) but rather if what we witness, the facts to which we testify when called on by the law to provide an accountancy of bodies (whether or not a différend is at stake — but especially if a différend is at stake), are meaningful existstentially, which is to invoke the anthropological problem central to Derrida’s materiality, and mentality, for the true feat of thetism is eventually to arrive at Montaigne’s point of seeing ourselves as members of a wild tribe living out a conjoined insanity on the fringes of polite society, consuming human flesh the way someone else might zipline or pierce a nipple, wrap a neck in metal rings or lick frogs to communicate with the divine.
16We are these benign cannibals, and yes, our ravenous appetites appear to give birth to a cultural relativism that is anthropology’s lower limit, as it would seem to authorize every kind of atrocity under the infnitely plastic rubric of the local. Like every member of every tribe, wild or completely boring, we use matter to our own ends without a thought as to how another phrasal universe might envision our behavior, since we have not thought through the problem of an outside, supplementary reality ruled by alternate principles and mores challenging the tenacity of our beliefs. Because our reality is a human one, and humans are by nature a dispersed species scattered via the possibilities its thetism makes it possible to envision, our materiality (and meterialism) demands an anthropology, which is why Derrida’s project is an anthropological one through and through, and at the deepest, most fundamental level: this strange, beautiful Freudian armchair anthropology that takes place in the absence of field work per se but which seems actually to redefine philosophy as field work, as the thinking through of anthropological positionality in the language of another discipline, as it is only by exiting a system and viewing it from the flipside that we are ever able to appreciate its systematicity, as in the Kantian formula «cognizing the interior of the human being from the exterior» in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. And as we know from the illustrious career of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, philosophy calls forth the question of an anthropology; to write one is always in a sense to compose the other, a fact Derrida grasps implicitly, one which fuels his interest in language and its many hospitalities and inhospitalities, the ways in which it invites union while obfuscating it through the many bipoles it employs as a kind of paradoxical propagation built on a network of communicating voltaic cells.
- 12 I lift the word sympoetry from Schlegel, whose Romantic Dialogue on Poetry reveals true poetry as c (...)
17If there is to be Type Theory – and the examination of anthropology philosophically seems to demand it – then friendship proper does not know it, for the only relevant difference from the perspective of the friends comprising the friendship knot is between n and n', not n and (n+1), in this lateral taxonomy of cognizant, conversant sentiences whose sentential realities merge into propositional sleepovers where concepts collide, shatter, shift, reorganize as knowledge, so deeply material that it loses its centering in a subject which could ever contain it, experiences a bornage flooding its borders with the liquid bounty of sympoetry.12 The Aristotelian formula best accounts for this systemic redistribution of essences and the challenge it poses to any seperable dualism which would seek to attach competing orders of existence provisionally: two bodies / one soul, a matheme that sits by the side of the phantom apostrophe O my friends, there is no friend, a line attributed by both Montaigne and Nietzsche to Aristotle, yet really only a rumor or hearsay, as Derrida insists, something hence inadmissible in the Court of Being, yet not without consequence, friendship’s apocrypha, a bizarre phrase affirming the friend at the same time that he is negated, all through the skewed logic of attribution that is fundamentally a game of parroting, a species of mimesis reserved particularly for that special epistemological object called gossip, which in the end is all we have (even paleontologists talk smack about comets and dinosaurs).
- 13 See Habermas’ Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, which involves a necessary transcendence of the (...)
18Like it or not, we are in the land of paradoxes, and they are not the neuter, inconsequential ones of logic for which Russell invents Type Theory in the first place as logical pharmakon, freeing language of the kinds of knots and clots that cause us to doubt its efficacy. Here, as Derrida comments in Given Time, it is possible to give more than one has — and not just in the psychoanalytic sense, although psychoanalysis is indeed relevant, since it is inherent to the logic of love that one be able to demonstrate an incomprehensible excess, defying the laws of the material world and yet strangely bearing witness to their veracity in an ontological oscillation doing matter the greatest service by making it an object of reflection rather than a mere donnée passively waiting for us to act upon it, as happens in the classic unloving capitalist Production Paradigm abandoned at the advent of postmodernism13.
- 14 Hawking and Wittgenstein take similar attitudes toward the paradoxicality that plagued Russell: it (...)
19For I am the end of my friend much as he is the end of me: we exist at each other’s perimeters, information spread over and across our surfaces holographically, like the best black hole as it, too, dissipates entropy in its efforts to conserve information while managing astral loss. The heart of our aggrandized materiality is, as Derrida notes, the fact that one of us will become witness to the other’s disappearance, an inevitability that encapsulates everything from the fact that, as Stephen Hawking has illuminated in his Brief History of Time, time’s vector is irreversible without exception (nature admits no paradoxes, which only belong to that contaminated system we naïvely label logic), to the earth’s rotation around the sun, according to which anniversaries and other milestones giving texture to the time of friendship are able to be arranged in calendar form and set up as the celebratory moments defining emotive reality (one wonders what kinds of friendship would be possible on other planets – for example, those where methane replaces water as predominant liquid)14.
20Affective life, an immateriality mired in the material, absorbs these subjective fluctuations that, strangely enough, require the existence of something extraordinarily physical and observable: the pineal gland, tiny component of the Endocrine System that in the Cartesian corporeal schema presented in The Passions of the Soul is where the incorporeal human essence resides, and, as biology has proven, is the site of that internal time-consciousness central to Husserl’s phenomenology. What would or could friendship be without the circadian rhythm housed in the pineal gland, the cyclical sense of time that defines our relation to the world at the most basic level and which makes it possible for certain friendships to form while others wither on the vine with maladapted Gmo tomatoes? It’s as if Descartes comprehended that the substance of the soul, or whatever we term everything human that transcends the reductive materialism of the mere bodily, is time itself — or rather, the sense of time, our subjective experience of something radically objective, these accumulating moments making space matter, the places where past meets present, and rarefied moments can be lost or regained through the sublimities of temporal transport. Think, for example, of Marcel Proust’s madeleine and all that it accomplishes after its drenched flesh intersects the taste buds of one who would create an architectonics of anamnesis, time, taste and memory all interfusing in a bourgeois tableau self-miraculating as timeless, iconic and classic, an egotistical sublime for the Modern era.
21If the pineal gland sets up the expectation of repetition through its circular, possibly elliptical relation to time (as with those nighthawks suffering from Non-24), if it, indeed, can be credited with the rush of pleasure that we as humans seem to take with each spiral of repetition, even when what gets repeated is the trauma of a social and personal loss as we see in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, then perhaps I am wired to mourn as much as to transmit loops of nucleic acid for a code treating me as little more than a glamourous envelope. The moment of grief comes with the inaccessibility of certain pronouns which I can no longer use because they would create nonce constructions defying both grammar and the Grammar of all Grammars alike, presenting non-existent relations as if they were still possible and in the end betraying the secret of my insanity. The obfuscation of the to and its necessary replacement by the about or the of is but the grammatical realization of a social reality over which the LOF presides with the cold indifference of a theorem of Calculus, ruling Gaia all the way through from paramecium to plutocrat. Although the magic of friendship is its seeming ability to transcend the material that conditions it, in the end I must concede that this feat of prestidigitation is but the illusion of a heliotrope dreaming that it’s a poppy in a field beneath a hyperactive sun whose photosynthetic shenanigans have induced a sort of botanical hysteria. What cannot be lost is my loss, even when at long last oblivion has its way: my capacity to be a loser is the brightest promise matter makes to me — me, the friend of quarks and corpuscles and a partner to the ephemeral each moment gravity drags me toward Apollo’s gleaming smile.