FRIENDSHIP - Reading List 14

La Piccioletta Barca

This conversation focused on friendship in and through literature.

  1. What is friendship?
  2. What kind of friendships are necessary to you, and why? Also, do you think friendship is important in art as it is in real life?
  3. Is friendship with books possible, with characters, with authors?
  4. Are we friends with people because of their person, or their actions? Are those two things inseparable?
  5. Are friendships affected by time the same way our relationship with objects and books and characters are?
  6. Friendship is the kind of relationship least mediated by society. So, friendship is the kind of relationship those participating in it have the most power to design on their own terms. As a result, do you think of being in friendship similarly as you do a reader of a text, who gets to pick what kind of authorial voice speaks most to you? Or is one a more active experience for you than the other?
  7. Why do you think friendship itself, as a theme, is so little written about in literature? At least, compared to texts about family dynamics, romantic relationships, cultural or spiritual communities?
  8. With which character (or author) do you think you would've been good friends with, and with whom do you think you would not have got along?


- Atahualpa Yupanqui, A friend is oneself with another fur


-   Tu Fu, To Wei Pa, a retired scholar:

-   Countee Cullen, To John Keats, Poet. At Spring Time

-   Anne Sexton, With mercy for the greedy:


-   Colette, passage from My mother’s house:

"Have you ever heard tell of Pelisson’s spider that so passionately loved music? I for one am ready to believe it and also to add, as my slender contribution to the sum  of human knowledge, the story of the spider that my  mother kept — as my father expressed it — on her ceiling, in that year that ushered in my sixteenth spring. A handsome garden spider she was, her belly like a clove of garlic emblazoned with an ornate cross. In the daytime she slept, or hunted in the web that she had spun across the bedroom ceiling. But during the night, towards three o’clock in the morning, at the moment when her chronic insomnia caused my mother to relight the lamp and open her bedside book, the great spider would also wake, and after a careful survey would lower herself from the ceiling by a thread, directly above the little oil lamp upon which a bowl of chocolate simmered through the night. Slowly she would descend, swinging limply to and fro like a big bead, and grasping the edge of the cup with all her eight legs, she would bend over head foremost and drink to satiety. Then she would draw herself ceiling-wards again, heavy with creamy chocolate, her ascent punctuated by the pauses and meditations imposed by an overloaded stomach, and would resume her post in the centre of her silken rigging."


-   Francis Bacon, On friendship:

-   Michel de Montaigne, Of friendship:

-   Molly Fischer, Elena Ferrante and the force of female friendships

-   Mary Shelley, letter to Jane Williams:

-   Hannah Arendt, On humanity in dark times - first chapter (until page 31)

-   Simone Weil, Gravity and grace (Chaper Love, from page 62 to 68)

-   Pablo Neruda, Childhood and poetry

-   Adolfo Bioy Casares, Last two entries of his Diary:

"Monday, May 12, 1986: Today I spoke with Borges, who is in Geneva. At about nine o'clock, when we were going to have breakfast, he called the phone. Silvina [Ocampo] answered. I soon understood that she was talking to Maria Kodama. Silvina asked her when they were coming back; Maria did not answer that question. Silvina also spoke with Borges and asked again: "When are you coming back?" She gave me the phone and I spoke with María. I gave her minor copyright news (a courtesy, not to mention sad stuff). She told me that Borges was not very well, that he had bad hearing and that I should speak to him out loud. Borges's voice appeared and I asked him how he was. "Fair enough," he replied. "I'm looking forward to seeing you," I told him. In a strange voice, he replied, "I'm never coming back." The call was cut off. Silvina told me: «he was crying». I think so. I think he called to say goodbye.

Saturday, June 14, 1986: In the Café del Molino I met my son Fabián, to whom I gave An experiment with time, by Dunne, bought at the kiosk at Callao and Rivadavia streets (after thinking so much about this encounter, coming up with that book had seemed like a good augury). I recommended it to him and told him I was going to give him a list of books. After having lunch at La Biela, with Francis Korn, I decided to go to the kiosk on Ayacucho and Alvear streets, to see if it had An experiment with time: I wanted a spare copy. A young, bird-faced individual, whom I later learned was the author of a study on the Eddas that was sent to me months ago*, greeted me and said, as if excusing himself, "Today is a very special day." When he said that phrase for the second time, I asked him: "Why?" “Because Borges died. This afternoon he died in Geneva”, were his exact words. I kept walking.

I passed by the kiosk. I went to another one on Callao and Quintana streets, feeling that they were my first steps in a world without Borges. That despite seeing him so little lately, I hadn't lost the habit of thinking, “I have to tell him this. He will like this. This is going to seem stupid to him." I thought: “Our life passes through corridors between screens. We are close to each other, but uncommunicated. When Borges told me on the phone from Geneva that he wasn't going to come back and his voice cracked and he hung up, how could I not understand that he was thinking about his death? We never think it is so close. The truth is that we act as if we were immortal. Perhaps one cannot live otherwise. Going to die in a distant city may not be so inexplicable. When I have felt very sick sometimes I wished I was alone: as if illness and death were shameful, something that one wants to hide."

*According to Ricardo Ragendorfer [«Adolfo Bioy Casares y los que aman odian». La Primera, Nº 140 (2002)]: «On the evening of June 14, 1986, the news began to report on the death of Jorge Luis Borges [...]. Shortly after, Cachi arrived at my house; he was a somewhat crazy psychologist, who for years had been correcting an essay of his on the Eddas. He looked disturbed. As if passing by, I mentioned Borges with some regret. And that was precisely the reason for his agitation. "I just crossed Bioy Casares and told him about the matter," he said, choking on the words. "From the look on his face, I realized that the poor guy didn't know anything. I was the one who broke the news to him».

-   Samuel Johnson, The difficulty of giving advice without offending:

-   James Boswell - Four passages of Life of Johnson

1) On Sunday, April 16, [...] I regretted that I had lost much of my disposition to admire, which people generally do as they advance in life. JOHNSON: Sir, as a man advances in life, he gets what is better than admiration: judgment , to estimate things at their true value.” I still insisted that admiration was more pleasing than judgment , as love is more pleasing than friendship. The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne. JOHNSON: "No, Sir; admiration and love are like being intoxicated with champagne ; judgment and friendship like being enlivened.

2) I have often thought, that as longevity is generally desired, and, I believe, generally expected, it would be wise to be continually adding to the number of our friends, that the loss of some may be supplied by others. Friendship, "the wine of life", should, like a well-stocked cellar, be thus continually renewed; and it is consolatory to think, that although we can seldom add what will equal the generous first-growths of our youth, yet frienship becomes insensibly old in much less time than is mellow and pleasent. Warmth will, no doubt, make a considerable difference. People of affectionate temper and bright fancy will coalesce a great deal sooner than those who are cold and dull. The proposition which I have now endured to illustrate was, at a subsequent period of his life, the opinion of Johnson himself. He said to Sir Joshua Reynolds, "If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. One, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair".

3) A question was started, how far people who disagree in a capital point can live in friendship together. Johnson said they might. Goldsmith said they could not, as they had not the idem velle atque idem nolle—the same likings and the same aversions. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you must shun the subject as to which you disagree. For instance, I can live very well with Burke: I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion, and affluence of conversation; but I would not talk to him of the Rockingham party.' GOLDSMITH. 'But, Sir, when people live together who have something as to which they disagree, and which they want to shun, they will be in the situation mentioned in the story of Bluebeard: "You may look into all the chambers but one." But we should have the greatest inclination to look into that chamber, to talk of that subject.' JOHNSON. (with a loud voice,) 'Sir, I am not saying that YOU could live in friendship with a man from whom you differ as to some point: I am only saying that I could do it.

4) We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at least one which makes the heart run over."

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