A Tremendous Thing

A Tremendous Thing: Friendship from the "Iliad" to the Internet

Gregory Jusdanis
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    A Tremendous Thing
    Book Description:

    "Why did you do all this for me?" Wilbur asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you."

    "You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing."

    -fromCharlotte's Webby E. B. White

    Friendship encompasses a wide range of social bonds, from playground companionship and wartime camaraderie to modern marriages and Facebook links. For many, friendship is more meaningful than familial ties. And yet it is our least codified relationship, with no legal standing or bureaucratic definition. InA Tremendous Thing, Gregory Jusdanis explores the complex, sometimes contradictory nature of friendship, reclaiming its importance in both society and the humanities today. Ranging widely in his discussion, he looks at the art of friendship and friendship in art, finding a compelling link between our need for friends and our engagement with fiction. Both, he contends, necessitate the possibility of entering invented worlds, of reading the minds of others, and of learning to live with people.

    Investigating the ethics, aesthetics, and politics of friendship, Jusdanis draws from the earliest writings to the present, from theEpic of Gilgameshand theIliadtoCharlotte's Weband "Brokeback Mountain," as well as from philosophy, sociology, evolutionary biology, psychology, and political theory. He asks: What makes friends stay together? Why do we associate friendship with mourning? Does friendship contribute to the formation of political communities? Can friends desire each other? The history of friendship demonstrates that human beings are a mutually supportive species with an innate aptitude to envision and create ties with others. At a time when we are confronted by war, economic inequality, and climate change, Jusdanis suggests that we reclaim friendship to harness our capacity for cooperation and empathy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5475-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Ours is the era of unprecedented sharing. Now, as never before, we are connected “virtually” by posts, messages, and tweets—all delivered instantaneously as beams from the sky. And the word we use to describe this new connected state of being? Friendship. Indeed, friendship has become the metaphor of the Internet age. We say “friend” when speaking of an individual we may have never seen nor are likely to meet. Responding to bids landing in our electronic devices, we join an amplitude of information and allow our tastes, interests, and needs to be transformed by algorithms of affection and profit....

  5. 1 The Politics of Friendship
    (pp. 21-60)

    Since we divide social life into formal and informal realms, we think of friendship as a refuge from politics. Suspicious of cynicism, we are aroused by the introduction of personal relations in the public arena. Conversely, we think that politics restricts and taints private life. Although most us would rather not like to choose between friend and country, if pushed many would agree with E. M. Forster’s declaration that “if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”¹

    This celebrated articulation of liberalism and individualism...

  6. 2 Mourning Becomes Friendship
    (pp. 61-91)

    Literature has welcomed friendship. Yet paradoxically authors often kill the friend. Ever since theEpic of Gilgamesh, written between 2000 BCE and1700 BCE, the friend inevitably dies, a pattern that gives the literature on friendship an elegiac tone.¹ Why is this so? Why do poems, novels, and short stories end on the battlefield, the grave, the pyre, or at the memorial service?

    From the perspective of narrative death is more fascinating to write and read about than life. The writer kills off the friend to tell a story, particularly a tale of failure. All happy friendships are the same but...

  7. 3 Duty and Desire
    (pp. 92-118)

    Friendship today seems like a light relationship. No longer enmeshed in nets of duties and obligations, it is the most unrestricted of all our social connections. But friendship pays for its unconventionality, having become delicate relationship, held together by the urge for personal fulfillment. This is what makes friendship a paradox, what I have called a noninstitution institution.¹ Although subject to social influences, friendship is like art, a pastime to be pursued after work, marriage, and family. In this chapter, I ask two questions: What are the implications for friendship that it exists without explicit support of law, religion, education,...

  8. 4 Friends and Lovers
    (pp. 119-155)

    Were they or weren’t they? Henrik took pains to assure us that he and Konrad were not. Montaigne expressed his horror at the thought. But the famous pairs of antiquity, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, and David and Jonathan, had not been troubled by it. From the ancient acquiescence to same-sex desire¹ to the modern denials people have sought to explain the attraction between two friends, especially the possibility that erotic attraction may play its devilish role.

    Objections arise from diverse quarters. For Aristotle an erotic bond, being a relationship of pleasure, would represent a lesser form of friendship....

  9. Afterword: Digital Friends
    (pp. 156-170)

    Is friendship, like poetry, dead? When poems and novels lament friendship as much as a fallen hero, do they suggest that it’s no longer viable? Is literature morbid in its obsession with the dying friend?

    Outside of literature it is possible to find flourishing literary relationships. Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt come to mind. They met in 1944 and continued a warm friendship for thirty years. Upon Arendt’s death in 1974 McCarthy put aside a book she was finishing to edit and annotate Arendt’s unfinished Gifford lectures that were published asThe Life of the Mind. It was a friendship...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-192)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 193-210)
  12. Index
    (pp. 211-213)