ArticlesVolume 21, Number 2 (2011)

Absent Friends: Scenes of Address and an Ethic of Self-Making


Why friendship? In what ways does it provide a topic for philosophy or theory? Why friendship now? How might Judith Butler help us to address this question, why ever and from wherever it comes? The title of this panel already suggests some of the reasons one might want or need to reflect on friendship. It appears conjoined there with “kinship” and “ethics of the self.” Kinship as a theme has been problematized, compromised fatally perhaps, by its links to compulsory heterosexuality and to structuralist theories that reinscribe traditional marriage and gender hierarchy in a field of the symbolic that, it is said, is more a matter of culture than nature. This structure is not simply social but rather a transcendental condition of the possibility of language, of culture, even of intelligibility itself.’ The critique of such notions has been advanced in the work of Judith Butler from Gender Trouble through Antigone’ Claim and beyond in lectures, essays and books. What alternatives may we find to systems of kinship that may be “always already heterosexual”? Hegel argued forcefully that family relations, although a necessary complement to civil society in configuring modern¬†ethical life, are transcended by the state-in particular, the modern constitutional state grounded in the recognition of freedom, equality and human rights. However, as Butler forcefully argues in Antigone’s Claim, for Hegel, the ethical status of the state is realized in its capacity to wage war and to ask mothers to sacrifice their sons, wives their husbands, and sisters their brothers in defense of its superior right (and might). By the end of the twentieth century, if not earlier, it had become almost impossible to embrace this alternative to “traditional family values” without buying into the totalizing claims of the national security state with its commitments to preemptive wars against foes with imaginary weapons of mass destruction and to a potentially endless war against nothing less than terror itself.