Saturday 4 December 2010

The disappearance of friendship

I'm giving some talks this weekend on the theology of friendship. Today I talked about the disappearance of friendship, which I traced back to four modern cultural mythologies: the mythology of sex; the mythology of instinct; the mythology of the family; and the mythology of work. Here's a passage I quoted from Foucault on the modern disappearance of friendship:

Homosexuality became a problem … in the eighteenth century…. I think the reason it appears as a problem, as a social issue, at this time is that friendship had disappeared. As long as friendship was something important, was socially accepted, … it just didn’t matter. Once friendship disappeared as a culturally accepted relation, the issue arose: ‘What is going on between men?’ ... The disappearance of friendship as a social relation and the declaration of homosexuality as a social/political/medical problem are the same process. (Foucault, Ethics: Essential Works Volume 1, p. 171)


Robert Cornwall said...

This is an interesting point -- if friendship is dead, then we begin to wonder and then legislate what happens between men (and women I would suppose).

John said...

I highly recommend Peter Dula's new book on friendship.

Andrew Esqueda said...

Ben, this reminds me of our little conversation about William Stringfellow. It's such a sad thing that his work has been stigmatized and left unnoticed simply because of his relationship with another man. The art of friendship has certainly been lost.

Mike W. McVey said...

Thanks for this insight.

kohffeine said...

would be really interested in seeing more of your talks, if you can make them available.

Richard Littledale said...

Bonhoeffer was a great advocate of the value of friendship - principally in Letters & papers from prison. He felt it was 'pure' in that it was a relationship which was not compelled or commanded but chosen.

Interesting to reflect on how the concept of friendship has been affected by online relationships too - see "Jesus as my Facebook Friend"-

SDemmler said...

To echo Kohffeine, I'd love to see these talks at length, if that's possible.

Pamela said...

The ideal:
When human frailty is most apparent, love (and friendship) most abounds -

'Ah! but those tears are pearl, which thy love sheds,
And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds'
Shakespeare's sonnet 34. 13-14.

Social media doesn't even come close to that.
When people say they have x number of friends on Facebook, I think, if you have a couple of 'true' friends in your lifetime you are lucky.

Brian Lugioyo said...


For a Bible study on Samuel when I came to Jonathan and David I used this clip to show how the end of man-man friendship/homophobia is primarily a western problem.

I'd be really interested in reading more of your thoughts on this.


Anonymous said...

An interesting and timely topic; I hope the following link will be of interest:

Highanddry said...

Hi Ben,

I was thinking about your response in regards to 'loneliness' as not atithetical but essential to friendship.

I wonder whether 'otherness' or some such word would better describe what you mean? I still want to preserve that profound sense of isolation and disconnectedness that we experience as loneliness as opposed to the solitude and radical difference you were suggesting.

The lonliness you are claiming is still life-giving, while what I am trying to express is far from life-giving. You are talking about profound connectedness through otherness, while there is another experience I'd want to call loneliness of feeling utterly alone - as if your life was seperate from all including God.

What do you reckon? Same thing or not?


Unknown said...

On what evidence do you base the assertion that friendship is dead?

John Hartley said...

What is the actual evidence for the "modern disappearance of friendship"? That's to say that "friendship" used to be around more than it is today, that it has actually "disappeared", and that this is a "modern" phenomenon? Are there statistics on such things? Are there objective measures by which the quality of relationships in the present and in specific past times can be evaluated and plotted in some way, to show this "disappearance"?


Anonymous said...

Friendship between men and women have been completely eclipsed by the myth of romantic love. Freudian ideas about repressed sexuality that is believed to be always and all times present make all intimate relationships suspect. We need a theological demolition of Freud in order to revive spiritual friendship and make cross-gender friendships truly possible.

No friend ship has not totally disappeared but they are thinner, contingent, and harder to find and maintain.

Anonymous said...

Are you aware of Dan Brennan's new book on cross-gender friendship? I think your 4 myths would sit nicely next to his work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,

I am interested in hearing your lecture or getting a transcript. It sounds like the perfect way of addressing the topic of Friendship for a class I am putting together for men in a drug and alcohol treatment facility connected with the Denver Rescue Mission. Let me know if you have any other resource suggestions or ways of getting these materials and we can swap email addresses.


Ben Myers said...

Thanks for the interest in these talks. Unfortunately I don't have a recording or transcript, just some notes on PowerPoint slides. So at the moment I don't think there's anything worth circulating (eventually I'm planning to do some writing on the topic).

Paul Tyson said...

Foucault was no Englishman, but I wonder how much the sexualization of intimate relations and the resultant emotional and physical ‘cooling’ of ‘friendship’ so as to not make it look too intimate, is because of a kind of English puritanical dread of the power of the body (a la Augustine and his famous erection). Perhaps the some of the Europeans don’t have this problem. I was at a friend’s place the other day – an Aussy/Italian tradesman – and an Italian family friend popped in, and without any fanfare or awkwardness, these two men kissed as a greeting. Nothing homoerotic about it, just warm friendship. Equally I always got kissed by my Hungarian friend’s mother every time I came in her door or left. My German relatives too, always kiss everyone. But yes, to Anglo Australian social sensibilities, physically expressed affection is so easily interpreted as sexual, and all relations where there is admiration and delight seem so easily read as sexual. Personally – whilst I think sexual love is great – I am kind of looking forward to the eschaton and being ‘like the angels’; its going to make one’s intentions so much easier to read!

Norris Battin said...

Will you comment on the question of platonic friendship between the sexes in these lectures? If not, do you have a reference?

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.