Between ‘Answering to and Answering Before’

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Friendship lives in the coming. It mainly has its life breathe in the future. This makes way for growth in friendship. Pope Francis also does not look at friendship as simply given. To the Holy Father, It is both a gift and a task. We have to grow in friendship. He invites us to grow in forms of social friendships. The Holy Father opens the horizon of the growth of friendship. Here we do not just have to look at friendship as closeness, reciprocity, and commitment. Such a way of thinking friendship will put friendship on trial before the tribunal and castrate all friendship as it will find it wanting in terms of its already universally established forms. This puncturing of friendship introduces what Jacques Lacan calls lack or ‘object a’, which will then let a kind of friendship grow. But lack produces the desire to satisfy oneself. Therefore, such a friendship is self-seeking and not self-giving. Christian friendship finds itself by giving itself. This means friendship that calls us to be faithful before the already set moulds of the ideality of friendship is a hidden egology in the Levinasian sense. Hence, following Derrida, we have the challenge to embrace the friendship in the becoming in its dynamically lived sense. Hence we may have to recognize the boundaries of separateness, distance, boundaries, caution and vulnerabilities associated with the becoming or the making of friendship. This takes us to think of friendship from the point not of answerability before the universal ideal of friendship but from the point of the flesh and blood friendship living in the singular encounter. This means friendship opens several ways of belonging to the friend (s) and does not simply close on to a set point which itself becomes a haunting ideal that calls the lived friendship to justice.

This is why Derrida’s thinking of friendship is impossible. It opens us to the absolute horizons where we do not have any expectations from friends nor any closures or fixed destinies for friends to move. This means the promise of friendship in the Derridian sense is that there is no promise. Derrida takes us beyond our familiar either-or structure of thought and opens the playground for friendship to flower. This means he brings friendship to be answerable to the singular encounter with the Other. This, therefore, indicates that friendship to him is not answerable before the tribunal of the already set essence of friendship. He enables us to remain open to the coming of friendship by dynamically responding to the imperative of the singular Other. Therefore, friendship to Derrida (if we can say this) is brought under the tribunal of answerability to the call of the Other. This call of the Other is a moral call in the Levinasian sense. Therefore, this openness cannot mean that anything goes as friendship. The friendship that we are thinking of here is a moral bonding that awaits the coming of the good, true, love and just in the very becoming of friendship.

In the spirit of opening all closures, Derrida interrogates friendship as a fraternity. Friendship to him has no model. Fraternity genders friendship. Hence, Derrida tries to dissociate from all traces of gender, race, caste etc., from understanding friendship. To him, friendship lives and breathes in the becoming of friendship and hence cannot become closed. It opens itself to all its becoming possibilities in as much it responds to the ethical imperative of the Other in the Levinasian sense. Thus friendship stays beyond understanding, beyond comparison and beyond definition but not beyond love. The measure of real love is to love without measure. Hence there is no one model of being friends. There are several models of being friends and each is unique, singular and incomparable. Each human person has a unique capacity for friendship. This means friendship to him is democratic. There are no boundaries to be friends.

We can trace a similar democratic spirit of social friendship in Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, although it remains closed within our Christic horizon. Christic horizon is not a closed horizon. To some of us, it being catholic remains open to profoundly loving and emancipative forms of friendship. The word Fratelli could be said to be androcentric but it is not strictly patriarchal and does not fraternize in a sense of male privilege but remains sufficiently open to include women into its embrace. Derrida does accept this openness as he points out that brotherhood comes from common parenthood. He thus underlines that there is a mother in the brother that opens the notion to include women. Like always, he does not close its meaning to only inclusive semantics but stays open to those who may still find traces of male privilege in our male-dominated world. We too have to remain open to this possibility. Otherwise, we run the risk of invisibilizing women in our society running contrary to our Christian call. Therefore, it is important that we become sensitive of the fact that although fraternization is inclusive of women, it can still neutralize difference and uniqueness of women. Besides, fraternization of friendship may still exclude friendship between women and women and man and women. Thus, like the measure of love which is to love without measure, we may have to agree that we may have to live friendship measured up against its measurelessness.

We can find God in Jesus Christ, as the benchmark of this outpouring of love that stays beyond measure. We therefore as Christians are challenged to become the love that is measured up against its own measurelessness. Maybe we may have to grant that it is immeasurable divine silence that becomes the measure of our love and friendship. We can trace that divine silence has become both audible, visible and palpable in Jesus Christ. We do find the sound, sense and vision of this measureless measure in the self-emptying kenosis in the mystery of incarnation, mission, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is why ‘being answerable to’ is an invitation to love without measure while ‘being answerable before’ is love that is truncated and cannot live up to the measure of Jesus Christ that certainly measures up to its own measurelessness. Hence, the paradox is that we have the challenge that calls us ‘to be answerable to’ by ‘becoming answerable before’ the measure of Jesus Christ that is sacramentally present in the mystery of the Church.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao