To those distant to me

Truth be told, what I’m about to discuss, I came across in ‘Gilles Deleuze’s ABCs: The Folds of Friendship’ by Charles Stivale. I can’t remember what it was, how I came across the book and the chapter on the topic, titled ‘The Folds of Friendship: Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault’, but somehow I did. Despite having a keen interest on how each of these men viewed one another, due to their differences, especially between Jacues Derrida and Michel Foucault, I sure wasn’t trying to look up anything that had to do with friendship. I’ve read the obituaries\homages and they are fascinating in how supposedly former rivals, if one can speak them as such, as it’s not at all that clear that anyone of them ever were in actual opposition to one another but rather in disagreement over this and/or that, all the sudden, are in posthumously friendly terms, even though that is, obviously, rather one sided as it’s not like the dead get to have a say in that, any potential dialogue having been ceased. Anyway, that’s not to say that this matter hasn’t been on my mind in a while, so I guess this is a pleasant encounter, at least for me. To get to the point, to add something interesting here, Stivale approaches this via Maurice Blanchot. As I’m typically not content with reading what someone has to say on someone else, I try my best to get to the original, even if it’s a mere translation.

After reading the chapter, I looked up the relevant essay by Blanchot, one titled ‘Friendship’, as included in a book bearing the same title. The text in question is only a couple of pages, so it’s very much worth the reading, in case you are interested. What struck me when I was reading it is the following passage (291):

“We must give up trying to know those to whom we are linked by something essential; by this I mean we must greet them in the relation with the unknown in which they greet us as well, in our estrangement.”

In simpler terms, even if that may seem a bit strange, at first, this has all to do with distance, in more than one sense of the word, not only spatial distance. Anyway, I think this is the best bit (291):

“Friendship, this relation without dependence, without episode, yet into which all the simplicity of life enters, passes by the way of the recognition of the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only to speak to them, not to make of them a topic of conversations (or essays), but the movement of understanding in which, speaking to us, they reserve, even on the most familiar terms, an infinite distance.”

I think I should thank Stivale for bringing my attention to this. Anyway, I think Blanchot puts it really well what friendship is about, at least for me, that is. As I pointed out already, this may see a bit odd at first, considering that we like to think friends as people who are close to us, not distant. However, I think Blanchot is on to something here. If you feel that’s too many words in a sentence, turned into a paragraph, really, just focus on the first five to seven words. Friendship has all to do with a relation, one which is without dependence. You don’t have to be friends, you get to be friends. It’s great to have friends you can depend on if needed, sure, but that’s not dependence. You don’t rely on them, reliable or not.

To add something personal here, without actually saying anything personal, which is exactly the point made by Blanchot, this is how I view people who I consider my friends. I’m not at all hesitant about speaking to them, but I can’t really imagine speaking of them, or at least I’d be very reluctant to do so. Maybe if it’s about a mutual friend, perhaps, in passing, perhaps, but as a topic, that just doesn’t sound right. I’d be even worse in an essay. That may already seem a bit contradictory, considering I’m actually just now writing an essay, on friendship. That said, I’m not exactly naming anyone or have I done in the past. I prefer leaving names out, not because I think they are not worth the consideration, or praise if that’s the case, but because it just seems … wrong. As Blanchot puts it, there’s just something very strange about it, declaring one’s friendship with someone to others. If you are someone’s friend, you know you are their friend and it requires no declarations. You are friends even in silence, as noted by Blanchot, as he (291) elaborates it: “far from preventing all communication, [the distance, the interval] brings us together in the difference and sometimes the silence of speech.” In other words, you are friends not only because you get to be friends, but also because of it, that is to say because of your distance to one another, however you want to measure it, not that you should measure friendship, and even in the absence of what we like to think as the marker of friendship, in the absence of speech.

To make this more personal, as I assume some readers may prefer it, yet not naming anyone, at least I consider my friends to be people who I get to be friends with, not the people who I have to be engaged with, no matter the distance. If someone were to say to me, along the lines of you didn’t have to do that, say, when I do something somewhat unexpected, that may even seem generous, for me, it’s not about having to do something. Instead, it’s about getting to do something. I guess one could say it’s about volition, but then that makes it sound like I keep a spreadsheet on friendship, calculating how to manage people according to some metric, so, no, it’s not like that, at all. Now then you might object that if it’s not about volition, then it must be involuntary, as in, having to do so, but that’s not it, as I already pointed out. Of course there’s volition involved, to some degree, sure, but then again, it’s not about that, as that’s like saying I like someone because I did it out of pure reason. Just think of it for a while, let it sink a bit. When did you pick your friends, that is to say deliberated on it, calculated it, to make them your friends? At least I can’t say I’ve managed to do that. Sure, yes, it’s not like I don’t try to make friends, to do my best to cater to people, but it just doesn’t work that way. Okay, some may end up becoming your friends, but it’s not exactly that you made them your friends. They do get to have a say in that as well, hence the point made by Blanchot about dependence. Conversely, you might be failing at it, miserably, doing your best job, being nice and all, trying to make friends with someone, only to make friends with someone else, someone who was, for example, there, someone you weren’t trying to be friends with to begin with.

It’s hard to explain why it is that we, or perhaps I should just say I as I don’t represent others, end up in this relation without dependence. Stivale addresses this in the chapter on Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault, but before I list some of his observations, I can’t help but to cite something stated by Foucault (588), something he said in an interview with Moriaki Watanabe titled in French as ‘La scène de la philosophie’, which can be found in the third collection of this and that by Foucault, better known as ‘Dits et Écrits’:

“Alors parlons des amis, mais je ne vous parlerai pas d’amis en tant qu’amis.”

There is no established translation of this. The ones I could find, by Stivale (70), as well as by Rosa Eidelpes and Kevin Kennedy, support the way I’d translate it. So, while I acknowledge that I could be wrong here, he’s going with it, saying that he’s fine with talking about friends, but, as I noted earlier on in reference to Blanchot (291), he’s not fine with doing in as it were between friends. That’s why I noted that it’s a different thing to speak to a friend about another friend than it is to talk with someone who isn’t your friend. Anyway, Foucault (589) continues:

“Et j’avoue que j’ai toujours un peu de difficulté à superposer ou à intégrer tout à fait des relations amicales à des sortes d’organisations ou de groupes politiques ou d’écoles de pensée ou de cercles académiques[.]”

Both translations, by Stivale (70-71) and by Eidelpes and Kennedy, align with my understanding of this. Foucault continues, adding that he has difficulty mixing friendship with organizations, political groups, schools of thought or academic circles. I don’t know about others but I’m in the same boat with Foucault on this one. It just doesn’t blend well, no offense meant to anyone. I have some friends who can also be characterized as my colleagues, but that’s rather incidental. The thing is that what Foucault is listing, these groups or circles, tend to get in the way of friendship, resulting in, to reel in some Blanchot, some sort of dependence on people. Foucault (589) further elaborates this:

“[L]’amitié, c’est pour moi une sorte de franc-maçonnerie secrète. Mais elle a des points visibles.”

The translations are, again, very similar. He’s stating that to him friendship is a sort of secret freemasonry, but with some points being visible. In summary, Foucault’s definition of friendship is similar to that of Blanchot’s. It’s worth noting that this is what Stivale notices and I’m merely addressing this myself after him. Back to Blanchot, who (292) adds to his definition of friendship that:

“And yet when the event itself comes, it brings this change: not the deepening of the separation but its erasure; not the widening of the caesura but its leveling out and the dissipation of the void between us where formerly there developed the frankness of a relation without history.”

I opted not to include the sentence before this, out of brevity, but that makes this a bit harder to understand. Anyway, Blanchot is speaking of death and, as indicated earlier on, friendship as having to do with a certain distance or separation. So, in other words, taking these into account, he is saying that death does not end in further separation but erasure. He (292) continues:

“Thus death has the false virtue of appearing to return to intimacy those who have been divided by grave disagreements. This is because with death all that separates, disappears. What separates: what puts authentically in relation, the very abyss of relations in which lies, with simplicity, the agreement of friendly affirmation that is always maintained.”

So, if the earlier segment about erasure, not further separation seemed a bit off, it’s because what he means by erasure is the erasure of what results in the relation in the first place. A friend is a friend, no matter how distant. Further separation is just further separation. If that’s not the case, you may have a different understanding of what friendship is. I have friends, ones that I’m only comfortable talking about with other friends, ones who are separated from me by great distance, yet I don’t disqualify them as friends for that matter, nor will I do so if the distance grows greater. Going back to the earlier point made by Blanchot (291) on talking to friends, not of friends, except, perhaps, with friends, Derrida (302) comments on this in ‘Politics of Friendship’, noting that:

“It is thanks to death that friendship can be declared. Not before, never otherwise.”

He (302) also makes an interesting comment in the same context:

“Without seeking to conceal it, it will have been unders[t]ood that I wish to speak here of those men and women to whom a bond of friendship unites me – that is, I also want to speak to them.”

This is what Stivale (80) brings up when discussing the friendship of Derrida and Deleuze. Anyway, the point made by Blanchot is there, how we wish to speak to friends, not of them. The earlier point, cited above, I take has to do with how we don’t speak of friends, that is to say declare our friendships, when they are around, only after they are gone. I guess that’s the thing with not having your friend around anymore, not having that friend you speak to, so what’s left is to speak of them. Stivale (78) notes that this is what haunts Derrida (4) as he comments the death of Deleuze in ‘I’m Going to Have to Wander All Alone’:

“I am going to continue-or begin again-to read Gilles Deleuze in order to learn, and I’m going to have to wander all alone in that long interview that we should have had together.”

Here Derrida declares his friendship, in the absence of his friend, as he is no longer able to speak to him, to have that conversation he clearly wanted to have on this and that, but for whatever reason just didn’t.

I guess I could go on to elaborate Stivale’s views on friendship and the relations between the three thinkers, Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault, but I’m sure people can read more on that themselves. What is interesting for me is how we come to enter this relation of distance, as discussed by Blanchot. That said, I think I need to clarify that I don’t want to come up with a metric for it, to make into a formula, but rather to try grasp what it is between people that link them. In summary, Stivale speaks of the distance, as discussed in this essay and in his text in reference to Blanchot, rivalry or disagreement while simultaneously marked by certain respect, as in, for example, between Derrida and Foucault, as well as Derrida and Deleuze, albeit to a lesser extent, and, certain charm, not something that you have but what you perceive in others. Stivale (81) explains charm, as discussed by Deleuze, as “the assertion that each of us is apt to seize upon a certain type of charm in another”, something perceived “in a gesture, in a thought, in a certain modesty.” To be more specific, he (82) clarifies that for Deleuze charm is “the side of someone that shows his or her phobias, shows the extent … that they’re a bit unhinged” and that the source of charm is in this “tiny point of someone’s insanity”, this “point where they are afraid or even happy[.]”

How would I characterize that myself? I know that I can only speak for myself, but I’d say that I agree. I often find that people are charming for this reason. There’s just something slightly off about them that makes them fascinating, something a bit unhinged, slightly insane or maddening, something insecure. Also, going back to the earlier point, this doesn’t necessitate that I agree with them. I can still respect them. I can still respect the hint of insanity in them, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. It’s often what makes them interesting and makes me want to speak to them, engage with them.

This has very little to do with my research. I found myself reading more on this despite landing on the topic quite accidentally. It turned into quite useful reading as I found myself in agreement with what is stated about friendship by these philosophers discussed by Stivale. It might be that most people won’t agree with how friendship and charm are defined in this essay, but that doesn’t stop me from expressing it. In that sense I reckon I’m a bit unhinged.


  • Blanchot, M. ([1971] 1997). Friendship (E. Rottenberg, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Derrida, J. ([1994] 1997). The Politics of Friendship (G. Collins, Trans.). London, United Kingdom: Verso.
  • Derrida, J. (1998). I’m Going to Have to Wander All Alone (L. Lawlor, Trans.). Philosophy Today, 42 (1), 3–5.
  • Foucault, M. ([1978] 1994). La scène de la philosophie. In. M. Foucault, Dits et écrits, III (D. Defert, F. Ewald and J. Lagrange (Eds.) (pp. 312–332). Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard.
  • Foucault, M. ([1978] 2011). The Stage of Philosophy, A conversation between Michel Foucault and Moriaki Watanabe (R. Eidelpes and K. Kennedy, Trans.). New York Magazine of Contemporary Art and Theory, 1 (5).
  • Foucault, M. ([1978] 2019). The philosophical scene: Foucault interviewed by Moriaki Watanabe (R. Bononno, Trans.). In T. Fisher and K. Gotman (Eds.), Foucault’s theatres (pp. 221–238). Manchester, United Kingdom: Manchester University Press.
  • Stivale, C. J. (2008). Gilles Deleuze’s ABCs: The Folds of Friendship. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.