Friendship and Multiple Worlds: Kindness and Wariness

Charles Spinosa illustrates his ideas on « multiple micro-worlds » with an example taken from his experience of friendship. He describes an initial relation of fusion:

« As friends, some employees look noble and pure-hearted. I would never doubt that they would stand by me, and I by them ».

As an employer he saw some of these same people as « untrustworthy and dull » and others as « highly-talented egomaniacs ». After a conversation where his perception of the same person, both colleague and friend, kept oscillating between these two incommensurable perspectives, Spinosa began to see new distinctions in his friendship micro-world:

« I found myself regarding certain friends as talented or untalented; they were no less friends but certainly required different kindnesses on the basis of their talent ».

The whole context of Spinosa’s discussion is not one of empirical observation (« No pure phenomenon guides this change; at least, it does not do so as a _pure_ phenomenon »). The incident is described as a philosophical anecdote, illustrating amongst other the things a philosophical apprehension of friendship as implicated in multiple worlds. (Note: Spinosa talks of two micro-worlds, collegiality and friendship. But this is surely for pedagogical reasons, Spinosa could easily add more worlds to fill out his « many-worlds » picture. Remember Hesse’s STEPPENWOLF, where the distinction of two micro-worlds is a mere preliminary to a full-blown pluralist understanding:

« If we consider the Steppenwolf from this standpoint it will be clear to us why he suffered so much under his ludicrous dual personality. He believes, like Faust, that two souls are far too many for a single breast and must tear the breast asunder. They are on the contrary far too few, and Harry does shocking violence to his poor soul when he endeavors to apprehend it by means of so primitive an image. Although he is a most cultivated person, he proceeds like a savage that cannot count further than two »).

Here he is close to Deleuze and Guattari when they discuss the friend as a transcendental (lived) category:

« the friend who appears in philosophy no longer stands for an extrinsic persona, an example or empirical circumstance, but rather for a presence that is intrinsic to thought, a condition of possibility of thought itself, a living category, a transcendental lived reality ». (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY, p3)

The friend is not an « extrinsic persona », but what Deleuze and Guattari call a « conceptual character », a transcendental category that is necessary for thinking and for living, that is a determinant element in our possibilities of life:

« Friend, lover, claimant and rival are transcendental determinations that do not for that reason lose their intense and animated existence » (p4)

Spinosa’s description, I woulld argue, gives us a concrete example of the changes that D&G analyse in all our categories and practices, and particularly in the category and practices of friendship.

Spinosa does not just describe an example of incommensurable multiple worlds, or of the mutual interference and enrichment that can come from their interaction. As far as we know, this perception does not « tear asunder » his identity. To be sure, he admits that he « felt uncomfortable with the radical changes » and to feeling stunned at the switch. He refuses the normalising story that reduces these multiple worlds to just multiple uses of a single role in the one world we all live in now:

« one 21st century world that has an optimizing instrumental style or way in which practices gather »

However, there is also a shadow side to this pluralist perception of the friend. We don’t know from moment to moment what world  will surge forth. (Terminological note: Dreyfus and Kelly like to use the expression « whoosh up ». I must say that I utterly detest this expression, as not only is it a hackneyed old joke that should never have been repeated, but it contains too many wrong associations for me: a childish onomatopeia to designate events as special effects that intrinsically involve speed, wind, and noise). Spinosa mentions shadow affects of discomfort, confusion, stupefaction (being « stunned ») when faced with these multiple worlds. One can easily imagine that his friends and employees have the same shock of pluralist perception in relating to him. Spinosa has a thinking response, he experiences the breakdown of identity at the upsurge of multiple worlds, and he refuses the normalizing stories and the unifying accounts that recreate the lost unity. He rejects the simplification and the tyranny of commensuration. But without that humanist overlay he cannot give full reassurance. Unlike the tiger, who sees only one world, where even the trainer is just potential food

« We think ourselves across contexts and either refrain from eating or betray ».

So we must be wary of what world surges forth with the friend, who may devour us or betray us in the next moment. Deleuze and Guattari talk of an experience of the friend after just such a breakdown that incorporates new elements into our practice of friendship:

« a turning away, a certain tiredness, a certain distress between friends »( p5).

There is a new wariness that enters into our experience of friendship after the breakdown in continuity that stems from the lived discovery of incommensurable worlds that make the other’s identity diverge and reveal our own identity as divergent. For Deleuze this implies the renunciation of fusional identification with the other and the maintaining of an irreducible distance: this is the virtue of politeness. It is accompanied as well by the virtue of kindness, which remains open to the various processes that the friend may follow to install ever more human relations despite the shadow affects and the breakdown of commensuration.

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2 commentaires pour Friendship and Multiple Worlds: Kindness and Wariness

  1. dmf dit :

    well enough, except to note that we cannot escape the manipulative aspects of our natures, never reach outside to the the other person/object and or situation to find some external/objective standard of right or wrong action/attitude. So yes lets be done with protestant demands for a unified/uniform identity but lets also keep in mind the need to take responsibility for choices as limited and even unconscious as they may be. No necessity/ananke in human affairs.

    J'aime

  2. Ping : DIALOGUE WITH BILL BENZON: On Kuhn, Feyerabend, Harman and Multiple Worlds | AGENT SWARM

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