ON FRIENDSHIP by Alexander Nehamas


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This conceptual exploration of friendship sees both the good and the bad.

Nehamas (Humanities/Princeton Univ.; Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art, 2007, etc.) explains that his study had its genesis in a graduate seminar he taught and a series of lectures he gave, which suggests why pedagogy, arts criticism, and philosophy overshadow anyone’s personal experience in the development of his argument. The author keeps returning to two illustrative relationships of his: one with a close friend who changed a tire for him and one with his barber. Yet closest scrutiny is reserved for analyses of novels, plays, and movies (Thelma and Louise, in particular), in which whatever they have to say about friendship may or may not be a reflection of any real relationships. “Friendship, I will argue, has a double face,” writes the author early on. Though he does later show how friendship can lead to favoritism or even immoral acts (Thelma and Louise, again), as one favors the friend rather than the ideal, some of his examples are more political friendships of convenience than bonds of true friendship. Perhaps the most compelling argument he makes is that having such a close relationship with a few undermines the ideal of Christian love and charity for all, equally. Otherwise, most of the downsides of friendship, the “complexities and ambiguities” on which Nehamas says he focuses during the book’s second half, have more to do with loss when the friendship ends—“the dull aches of abandonment, the sharp stabs of betrayal, the agonizing dilemmas of loyalty.” The author illustrates most of these with friendships as portrayed through the various arts.

For those wanting to see how the concept of friendship in Western civilization has evolved since Aristotle, this study offers a useful, if idiosyncratic survey.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-465-08292-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2016


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