Thinking Friendship in the Web

Image Source: The Aragon Outlook

Living at the time of social media and terrorist violence, the idea of friendship is periled. Aristotle seems to have foretold our condition when he said ‘ oh my friend, there is no friend’ seems to have become our reality. We can boast of having a thousand friends on the platforms of Facebook and Instagram. Our friendships are shallow. There is no friend in what we call friends on the web. The friend in the friendship is dying and a kind of surreal relationships holds us together. Life seems to have been hollowed out of its substance and what is left of it is mere superficial virtual and almost unreal exchange of greetings. The symbolic exchange feeds the narcissistic ego as we cling to the surreal world of social media platforms. Perhaps, we may have to study Derrida to understand our losses as we glide the web in search of friendship.

Derrida thinks that the intimacy of friendship lies in the sensation of recognition of oneself in the eyes of the other. We continue to know our friends even when they are no longer present to look back at us. We are always looking at the future of our relationship. Derrida says that from the moment we befriend someone, we are preparing for the possibility of them outliving us or we outliving them. Among the several desires that we attach to friendship, none is comparable to the ecstasy of the future that goes beyond death. The politics of friendship haunts and we are sometimes forced to imagine how we may pay our friend eulogistic tribute. It somehow takes a hold on us as survivors and grieving. Derrida says that he lives in the present speaking in the mouth of his friends. He further says that he already hears them speaking at the edge of his tomb where he will no longer be, saying, ‘rise again’. Hence, Derrida thinks that to love a friendship, we have to love the future. Friendship lives beyond death. It promises an undying future.

While Derrida thinks the politics of friendship, like several other things, he thinks of friends and enemies together. He says that the possibility of the meaning of friendship would never appear unless the figure of the enemy summons it in advance. This is why our friendships are fragile and breakable. The friend lives with the possibility of becoming an enemy. There are seeds of self-destruction as well as self-making in the friendship. This is why we may say that friendship makes politics possible. In a world without enemies what we call politics will lose boundaries and purpose. Derrida says that our experiences of radical and just forms of friendships may assist us to imagine a new experience of freedom and equality. Friendship, therefore, ignites the politics to come. Friendship is hazardous too. There is politics in the pre-suppositions, premises and horizons of friendship. The possible enemy in the friend carries it signature in the relationship. Therefore, friendship remains always haunted by the possibility of its impossibility/ the possibility of its demise.

Aristotle’s lament that states his condition, ‘O my friend, there is no friend’ can be thought of as a complaint. We can think of it as a cry that points to a wrong that has to be righted. We can also see similar a condition after the rise of social media. We may also cry and say that we have many friends and yet have no friends. We may go to the extreme of saying that we are alone on the web. The web has made us lonely by cutting us from real flesh and blood friendships. The flesh is subtracted and digitised by its image. We do not really have friendships. What we have is simply an image of it. We have exchanged the image for reality. This is why the spooky web seems to have become an unhoming home for some. Friendship has mutated on the web. It doesn’t carry the fragility of our real flesh and blood relationships. It has aborted the relation of friendship with the future and its link with death. Friendship by distancing from the future as well as from the past has emptied itself only in the incessant now and hence has lost the undying ecstasy of friendship that looks for its coming in the future and its living beyond the death of the befriended one. We can block friends and cut them instantly from our life. Hence there is no bright future for friendship on the web. The relation to the future that impinges on our friendships and renders it promising as well as wounded by the very possibility of its impossibility through the death of the befriended or the mutation of the friend into an enemy has become one of now-time which is marked by instant gratification. This means we may have to understand the contraction of time/ temporality that is afflicting our friendships on the web.

We do not have friends. What we really have are frenemies. As long as we can consume friendship in its several images on the web we see the rising sun of friendship. But friendships in the now-time have a short life span. They are even more fragile. The enemy in the friend is always haunting these friendships. They live and die in a short time. The life of our friendships on the web is waiting for its demise. We are frenemies on the web. Our friendships are moving towards being transformed into enmities. But these enmities mean nothing. We forget our friends soon and look for the new ones and embrace the next in the line and change. There is no mourning of any loss. We do not feel the loss. We immediately take to the next consumption of the image of friendship. This also means a friend who becomes our enemy is also an image of an enemy and can be pushed to the waste bins of the web by simply blocking his/her excess to us. We create a crypt/ wall and move ahead. The web demonstrates in quick time how what Derrida teaches when he says a friendship carries the seeds of its own impossibility. All friends, therefore, are frenemies.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao