Levinas Studies

Volume 1, 2005

Alan Udoff
Pages 139-156

Levinas and the Question of Friendship

We take our bearings from Francesco Negri — Although many persons attribute the origin of letter writing to various causes, I however believe that one to be closer to the truth that we have received, handed down by memory, from the ancient stories of Turpilius: namely, that the letter was invented for no other purpose than that we should make absent friends once more present [absentes amicos presentes redderemus] and that by regarding [intuentes] their letters we might for a time restore the friendship interrupted by intervals of time and space; for since friendship is accustomed to making its foundation in daily companionship, when this thing is missing it seems indeed to weaken not a little. and hear in this passage the resonance of Aristotle: Is it then the same way with friends as with lovers, for whom seeing [to horon] the beloved is their greatest contentment, and the thing they choose over the other senses, since it is especially through seeing that love is present and comes to be present, so that for friends, too, living together [suzèn] is the most choiceworthy thing? For friendship is a sharing in common [koinònia]. (EN 1171b29–33) The audible connection with Aristotle is faint. Negri’s work is securely placed against the background of the increasing formalization of the art of letter writing in the Middle Ages and its Renaissance development, in which he figured prominently. The genealogy that he proposes, whose forebear is an all but forgotten Roman playwright, belongs to an account of literary tradition in which Cicero is the exemplary figure. Nonetheless, it is in St. Jerome that he finds the likely source of his attribution.