ON BEING A FRIEND by Eugene Kennedy


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Professor Kennedy (Psychology, Loyola) was once a Roman Catholic priest, and it's impossible to miss the homiletic tone in these fervent, vigorous reflections. In preaching on friendship, Kennedy--like Polonius before him--is long-winded and hu-morless. (""Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,/ Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,"" etc.) But what he says makes sense. His central theme is the dialectical harmony between friendship and death. Love and death, he argues, are ""robust mysteries."" Friendship calls for the death of destructive ego. All friendships, sexual or otherwise, involve the pain of separation, a series of mini-deaths by way of preparation for the final leave-taking. There is death at the heart of friendship (and friendships can simply die), but friendship is the ultimate achievement in the face of death. On a less exalted existential level Kennedy develops the familiar notion that you have to be comfortable with yourself before you can be friendly with others. But Kennedy will have nothing to do with self-centered pop therapy, American style. Much of the book, in fact, is dedicated to an attack on the aimless narcissism of American culture, which has spawned overfed but spiritually starved consumers: ""people who have bought cowboy hats or Russian dresses, sniffed a little coke, had a little sex, and still seem unhappy."" For all such sick souls Kennedy prescribes the demanding-but-liberating regimen of friendship. Not exactly a distinguished contribution, but a solid effort.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1982
Publisher: Continuum