Monday, November 26, 2018

History of Sexuality: From Michel Foucault to Miley Cyrus

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The Further History of Sexuality: From Michel Foucault to Miley Cyrus

Peter Benson philosophically explores changing attitudes towards sexuality.

When Michel Foucault died in 1984 he left unfinished a proposed sequence of four books with the overall title The History of Sexuality. Only the first three volumes were published. Furthermore, his plan for the sequence had changed drastically between the publication of the first volume in 1976 and the second, which appeared in the year of his death. One thing he didn’t change, however, was the title of his project, and this was quite enough by itself to ruffle the feathers of his many detractors. Although attitudes to sexuality clearly change over time, can it be right to claim that human sexuality itself has a history? Surely it is a natural characteristic which only alters in the long, glacially slow perspective of evolution?
Michel Foucault
French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) portrait by Woodrow Cowher, 2017

A History of Foucault’s Thought

Questions of this kind were not new issues in relation to Foucault’s work. They had been a source of controversy ever since the time of his first major book, The History of Madness (1961). There, too, the title promised not merely a history of the treatment of madness, but a history of madness itself. This implies that madness too belongs among the category of things that have a history, not among those that are historically unchanging facets of human existence. Foucault disputed that there was a readily recognizable human ailment called ‘madness’ which had always existed, but had been treated differently in different eras. Rather, the way we talk about madness – the particular behaviours that we characterize by this term – changes over time, and there is no way to recognize who is mad outside of this shifting discourse. This gives to madness a narratable history.
It is at this point that a number of misunderstandings are apt to arise, which are used to berate Foucault as well as similar thinkers in the Continental tradition, so it is important to emphasize what he is not saying. He is not claiming that there is no reality to madness outside of our discourses about it. No-one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever seriously made such a claim. Experiences of madness are undoubtedly real, serious, and distressing. Their causes may lie either in neurological or social conditions, or perhaps some combination of both. As yet, however (despite the frequently excessive confidence of psychiatrists), we are unable to catalogue these causes with any confidence. In the meantime the category of ‘madness’ variously morphs according to changes in our theories. These shifts, widening or narrowing the class of ‘the mad’, can be mapped chronologically. By becoming aware that madness was once thought of in very different terms from our own, we can acquire a degree of detachment from current views, rather than being immersed blindly within them. In this idea, as in many other ways, Foucault was greatly influenced by Nietzsche, who wrote of the importance of ‘untimely’ thoughts – thoughts at odds with those of our present era, either because they are borrowed from the past, or because they presage a different future.
Similar ideas sustain Foucault’s History of Sexuality. Here too he wanted to challenge the view that human sexuality was a fixed feature of our biological and psychological lives which different societies have variously sought to limit, condemn, or express. On the contrary, Foucault takes the view that the diverse forms of human sexuality are brought into being by the way they are discussed: the biological basis of sexuality is elaborated and shaped by the language we use to describe it. Indeed, the very concept of someone having a ‘sexuality’ is a very recent idea, which did not exist before the eighteenth century.
Today we are familiar with discussions about people’s sexuality, which is usually taken to refer to whether they are homo-, hetero-, or bi-sexual. But Foucault explains in the first volume of his History that although for many centuries in Europe the law forbade and punished homosexual acts, it was only in the nineteenth century that individual people began to be spoken of as ‘homosexuals’. Foucault dates the idea of ‘the homosexual’ as a particular type of person, with distinctive psychological characteristics – rather than someone who succumbs to a vice that might be a temptation for anyone – to an article published in 1870. As he writes: “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species” (p.43). However, this characterization “also made possible the formation of a ‘reverse’ discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or ‘naturality’ be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified” (p.101).
This exemplifies Foucault’s general theory that all social and political power generates its own opposition, creating conflict even as it tries to suppress it. Thus the term ‘homosexual’, designating a particular class of persons, was first used by figures in authority: doctors, psychiatrists, judges. It named a particular problematic group who might then be subjected to treatment, punishment, or tolerance. Even those who advocated a relaxed attitude towards these people did so, first, by characterizing them and then, most typically, declaring the causes of their condition to be irreversible. In a second stage of this historical process, the designated group adopted and adapted their designation, accepting the term ‘homosexual’ or some equivalent, and regarding themselves as representatives of a suppressed and misunderstood group, engaged in resisting social oppression. Hence began a long process of covert and overt protest, from the time of Oscar Wilde to the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970s. The self-adoption of the word ‘gay’ as a non-pejorative alternative to other slang terms, and the promotion of this word until it has now become generally accepted, was an immensely successful example of linguistic rebellion, running in parallel with, and influencing, the steady change in social attitudes. The central Foucauldian point, however, is that it was power which created the category ‘homosexual’, which then became a location of resistance to that power. That is to say, power creates its own resistance: the resistance does not come from somewhere outside the particular regime which provokes it.
Once this resistance had led to the crumbling away of condemnation and punishment, however, there was no longer any strong need for people designated ‘homosexual’ to band together in solidarity against their oppressors. Nor was there any need to think differently about homosexual activity than any other variety of sexual interaction. In the years since Foucault’s death, these taboos have indeed largely evaporated. Many people no longer feel that homosexual actions would put them into a special social category, and hence they no longer have any strong motivation to avoid them. This new situation has been accurately described by the actress Kristen Stewart, who, in response to a question about her sexuality, said, “I think in three or four years there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight” (Nylon magazine, 2015). The only word Stewart is willing to use about herself in this connection is ‘fluid’. This is a word that has recently become fashionable, and has also been used by, among others, the model and actress Cara Delevingne and the pop star Miley Cyrus, who has become a vocal spokesperson for these new attitudes. She has not only given voice to the experiences of many people today, but also influenced attitudes among her wide audience.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper in 1980 Foucault had declared:
“From philosophy comes the movement through which… one detaches oneself from received truths and seeks other rules of the game… [it brings about] the modification of received values and all the work [is] done to think otherwise, to do something else, to become other than what one is.”
He therefore concluded that we should recognize philosophy as wherever analysis is accompanied by “changes in behaviour, the actual conduct of people, their relationships with themselves and with others.” It follows that philosophy is not something to be left to professional philosophers. Original ideas can bubble up in many different areas of our culture, and, when they are challenging received opinions, may equally deserve the name of ‘philosophy’. Clear thinking and fresh thoughts are far from being the preserve of academics. (Indeed, academia is often the last place one should look for them.)

Miley Cyrus: Pansexuality

Throughout 2015 Miley Cyrus gave a series of interviews which in my view place her at the forefront of contemporary thinking about gender and sexuality. Provocative and clearly expressed, these interviews ably display her considerable intelligence and honesty.
But before discussing what she had to say, I’d first like to take a step back, to explain what had led her to take such a public stand on these issues and to become (in the words of one of the magazines that interviewed her) “the world’s most unlikely social activist.”
Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus, a popular singer
Miley has been a popular and successful singer since the age of fourteen, when the Disney TV channel gave her the lead role in their children’s programme Hannah Montana. Her attitude towards her financial success, however, is remarkably refreshing and unusual in our highly competitive society. “People in this industry think ‘I just gotta keep getting more money’, and I’m like, ‘What are you getting more money for? You probably couldn’t even spend it all in this lifetime’… The question is: what am I going to do with it? I don’t want to just sit and hoard it. Or chase more.” She adds that “I should not be worth the amount I am while people live on the streets. Nothing I do will justify that. But I have so much influence as a pop star, it’s important I use it” (Marie Claire, US, Sept 2015).
Miley was particularly concerned about the number of homeless young people she could see on the streets of L.A., and began to investigate the reasons for it. It quickly became evident that one of the most common reasons for a teenager to be living on the streets was that their parents had thrown them out for being gay or otherwise sexually unconventional. This shocking fact made the issue very personal to Miley, whose own sexual feelings had never been confined to a single gender. In different circumstances, with less supportive parents, she herself might have been sleeping under a bridge somewhere.
Determined to take some action on this issue, her campaign has taken three routes. First, she set up a charity (the Happy Hippy Foundation) to offer practical help to homeless young LGBTQ people. Secondly, she made various public pleas for tolerance, emphasizing that she was not trying to change anybody’s way of life, only asking them to be more accepting of different lifestyles. Thirdly, she has spoken candidly about her own life and feelings in the interviews I mentioned. It is not unusual today for people in the entertainment industry to announce that they’re gay or bisexual – in such circles at least, prejudice has largely evaporated. Miley, however, dislikes the word ‘bisexual’, and prefers ‘pansexual’ to describe herself. For one thing, ‘bisexual’ implies that there are just two sexes to choose from, into which everyone falls. This is factually untrue. Hermaphroditism, or intersexuality, is far more common than most people realize. By some estimates, one in every two thousand babies has intersex characteristics, which, world-wide, is several million people. So even physically, not everyone is clearly male or female. If one adds to this the social and psychological assumptions that have accrued around ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, a great many more people will not be readily classifiable in those terms, or will feel uncomfortable with any such classification.
“I don’t relate to being a boy or a girl,” explained Miley, “and I don’t have to have my [sexual] partner relate to [being] boy or girl.” She contends that “Once you’re an adult, you can choose who you are. We’re born humans… I don’t relate to what people have made men and women into” (Elle, UK Oct 2015). When she finds somebody attractive, she explains, she is responding to that person as an individual, not as a member of a category such as ‘male’ or ‘female’. What type of genitals they have is not important until one is actually making love, at which time one can modulate one’s behaviour accordingly.
Many people may find this attitude difficult to empathize with. But a practical demonstration can be found in Miley’s ‘InstaPride’ campaign, which invited transsexuals and others of indeterminate or unfixed gender to post pictures of themselves on Instagram. Some of these people are very obviously physically beautiful, without us knowing anything about their genitalia. So it becomes clear that we can find someone attractive without knowing their gender. Attraction to a particular person comes first, and knowledge of their gender is secondary. In the face of this refreshing attitude, the work of academic feminist philosopher Judith Butler begins to seem timid: her theories never leave behind the binary divisions of conventional gender, or the alternatives of being either homo- or heterosexual. People like Miley have moved on from such limiting perspectives.
At the end of her concert performances in 2015 Miley took to the stage wearing a colourful wig, a horse’s tail, fake breasts, a unicorn’s horn in the centre of her forehead and a huge sculptured phallus strapped to her crotch. In this wonderful costume she drifted gently round the stage singing her poignant song, ‘Karen Don’t be Sad’. In this context the song became a supportive call to all gender non-conformists to resist attempts at normalization: “’Cause they’ll crush you if they can/They’re just a bunch of fools/And you can make them powerless/Don’t let them make the rules.”
In June 2015, Miley posted a picture of herself on Instagram (where she has 26 million followers) wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Gender is Over’, and looking very cheerful about the idea. She has remarked that in the past, when people asked her for an autograph, they used to mention some song or performance of hers that they particularly liked, but now the most common thing they say is, “Thank you for what you stand up for.”
It will certainly take some time for her views to become widespread, but there is a definite movement underway, which could not have found a better spokesperson. There is nothing hectoring or aggressive in her pronouncements, but only good humour and tolerance. It is worth remembering that she first became popular on childrens’ TV because of her likeable personality, and that is one thing that hasn’t changed at all.

Shulamith Firestone & The End of Gender

The end of gender was predicted in 1970 by the feminist philosopher Shulamith Firestone in her book The Dialectic of Sex. There she wrote:
“The end goal of feminist revolution must be…. not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality … would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality)” (p.19, her emphases).
At the time this probably seemed like a utopian dream, but as we have seen, it is now coming much closer to realization.
Firestone’s brilliant book is the Das Kapital of feminism. Building on the work of Marx and Engels concerning the primary division of labour between the sexes in prehistory, Firestone argues that no socialist revolution will be complete until this original division is overcome. In the same way that Marx saw the industrial development of society as the basis on which class division could be overcome, no longer serving any necessary purpose, so Firestone saw the development of greater control over reproduction through contraception and other medical technologies as the necessary ground for ending the class division between men and women. Industrial technology also has its part to play, as it ends any need for brute strength as an advantage in human activities. Hence all forms of employment become open to both sexes, and discrimination by gender-class is unnecessary. Indeed, in many countries it is already illegal. In this context, Firestone predicted, the social significance of gender will begin to evaporate.
Firestone shares Marx’s belief in the dialectical nature of historical transformations, whereby history progresses through the clash of opposing classes or ideas. This is one point that distinguishes her from Foucault, who avoided making predictions about the future course of social change, and always remained wary of the dialectical philosophies of history propounded by Hegel and Marx. However, this dichotomy between Foucault and dialectical philosophy is not as absolute as it might appear. In his 1970 inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, Foucault suggested, “we have to determine the extent to which our anti-Hegelianism is possibly one of his tricks directed against us, at the end of which he stands, motionless, waiting for us.”
The widespread anti-Hegelianism in French philosophy at the time was in part the result of contentious interpretations of Hegel – notably those of Alexander Kojève – which placed an undue emphasis on historical inevitability and on the all-embracing completeness and closure supposedly possessed by Hegel’s system. It is in Kojève’s writings, not in those of Hegel himself, that we find the notion of an eventual ‘end of history’, later popularized by Francis Fukuyama.
Until recent years, the considerable popularity of Kojève’s interpretations of Hegel prevented more subtle engagement between political philosophy and Hegelian thought. Today, writers such as Slavoj Zizek have helped to free Hegel from these misleading interpretations, and it is now easier to see how much Foucault and Hegel have in common. For both thinkers, historical change takes place not as a continuous evolution but through abrupt transformations, in which one form of society is replaced by another. For Foucault, the difference between these regimes was correlated with different arrangements of political and social power. Hence in Discipline and Punish (1975) he contrasts the unified sovereign power of the feudal era with the more dispersed and fragmented disciplinary power of industrial society. But he does not directly address the causes of these changes. By contrast, Firestone considers that “feminism is the inevitable female response to the development of a technology capable of freeing women from the tyranny of their sexual-reproductive roles” (p.37). Furthermore, “Culture develops not only out of the underlying economic dialectic, but also out of the deeper sex dialectic” (p.179).
As we have seen, Foucault’s analysis of the shifting significance of homosexuality in Western culture over the last two centuries identifies two stages, corresponding to the production by power of its own opposition:
(i) Homosexuals identified as a ‘deviant’ group, the target of medical and legal intervention.
(ii) Homosexuals accepting this identity, as gay people, and campaigning for equality and integration into general society.
This second stage can be said to have culminated in the recent acceptance, in many countries, of gay marriage. But the ending of thisconflict inevitably generates a completely new situation, in which:
(iii) The division homosexual/normal having been overcome, the category of ‘homosexual’ itself loses its rigid borders and begins to dissolve into contemporary ‘pansexuality’.
With this third step, which has only developed in very recent years, since Foucault’s death, we can see a new dialectical triad beginning to form. This is the kind of triad which, for Hegel, Marx, and Firestone constitutes the underlying structure of historical development. So, although Firestone predicted pansexuality to be one of the results of a feminist revolution, we can today see it as contributing towards that revolution, bringing it closer to realization. Such a revolutionary change, bringing about an end to the oppressive social structures of gender, will soon produce a better world for everyone: women, men, and everyone else as well. It is time for all of us to embrace and encourage these changes.
© Peter Benson 2017
Peter Benson accepts the pronoun ‘he’, but considers himself to be gender neutral. His favourite Miley Cyrus track is ‘Space Boots’.

Contemporary Friendships

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Contemporary Friendships

Tim Delaney and Anastasia Malakhova categorize and analyze the different kinds of modern-day friendships.

What is friendship? It links people who share dispositions, a sense of intimacy or feelings of affection, and have an attachment or association with one another. As such, friends are bonded by expressions of harmony, accord, understanding, and rapport. There are many characteristics of a friend,but generally a friend is someone whom you like and trust; who supports you in a time of need; who cheers you on as you attempt some goal; and yet still is someone who may ‘bust your chops’ to bring you back to reality when you get a little too full of yourself. Friends are so important that the Online Slang Dictionary lists 139 slang words for them. Here are some examples: ace, bof, boo, bro, brohan, brother from another mother, buddy, chica, chum, cousin, crew, cuz, dawg, dog, fella, flatmate, home boy, home girl, homie, kemo sabe, pal, partner, pimpette, pookie, posse, potna, rock, sista, sister from another mister, sweetie, thug, and wingman.
We form friendships for a whole variety of reasons, including the historic purposes of safety and basic survival, but friendships also serve other important purposes, such as providing social inclusion and a sense of identity. The Austrian-American sociologist Peter Blau (1918-2002) described how people choose between alternative possible friendships by ranking the expected experiences of each potential association, then selecting the best. In particular, Blau believed that the main force that draws people together is social attraction, defined in terms of the potential rewards (whether internal or external) to be gained by for participating in the exchange among potential friends. Thus integrative bonds, such as expectations of rewards, social approval, shared opinions and outlooks on life, love, and the pleasure of social attraction, provide a pivotal role in forming friendships.
Aristotle provides us with a good starting point for any discussion on friendship. He categorized three primary types of friendships: friends of utility, friends of pleasure, and friends of the good. Some friendships are likely to stay in one category indefinitely if this fits the needs of the friends involved. For example, many of us have ‘work friends’ (this corresponds to Aristotle’s concept of ‘friends of utility’), and we are quite content with keeping it that way as we have no desire to spend time with them outside of work. Other friendships are forged because we enjoy each other’s company, what Aristotle referred to as ‘friends of pleasure’. Some friendships grow from the casual to the very close, what Aristotle called ‘friends of the good’. But there are also friendships involving people who started out as good or close friends but over time begin to drift apart. In other words, friendships are fluid and subject to change, for any number of reasons. The type of friendship one has with others depends on the people involved, their expectation level, their needs, and how much time and effort they are willing to spend on nurturing and devoting to the friendship. [See Tim Madigan and Daria Gorlova’s article in this issue for more details on Aristotle’s ideas of friendship, Ed.]
The nature of contemporary friendship seems more complex than the trifold categorization employed by Aristotle, and can be sorted into many subcategories, including folks who are attached to one another by feelings of affection or personal regard; those who provide assistance and support to one another; those who are on good terms with one another because they share certain attributes, such as religious and cultural affiliations; those who share a common interest such as music or favorite sports team; or, by those who participate in certain social activities, such as travelling or hiking.
With these considerations in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most significant categories of friendships found in the contemporary era.
Contemporary Relationships
Contemporary Relationships (with apologies to Matisse), by Bofy © Bofy 2018

Casual Friends

All (face-to-face) friendships share the assumption that you’ve actually spent time together and bonded to some degree, or as Aristotle would put it, that you’ve ‘shared salt’ with one another. A ‘casual friend’ would be someone with whom you spend some time with where your encounters with one another are friendly but not very intimate. Casual friends will come and go, while closer friends may remain in your circle of acquaintances for years, perhaps even for a lifetime. Casual friendships may slowly fade away, or may end spectacularly. Research shows that the quickest way to end a friendship is betrayal. Here the trust necessary for a continuing relationship is shattered.

Close Friends

A step above the ‘casual friend’ is the ‘close friend’. Close friends may also be known as ‘good friends’. This category falls in-between casual friend and best friends. A close friend is someone you would consider part of your inner circle. Cherie Burbach, a self-proclaimed ‘Friendship Expert’, describes close friends as those “people who know the most about your life, and have likely been through a few ups and downs with you. You may have several friends and one or two people you would consider ‘good friends’. Good friends are generally those you see and talk to the most often” (see ‘Stages of Friendship Development’, 2017, at We agree with Burbach that we’re more intimate with close friends than casual friends, and that we are likely to have shared some ups and downs with close friends. However, we disagree with her conclusion that we are likely to have just one or two people we would consider close friends. Such a quantitative limitation is reserved for the ‘best friend’ category.

Best Friends (BF)

Casual friends and close friends are important, but only the select few can claim the title and sentiment expressed by the term ‘best friend’. The best friend is the gold standard of friendships. Best friends possess all the qualities of close friends, and much more. They are the friends with whom we are very close; they are our confidants, and the people we can count on at all times including the good and bad, sad and happy, excited and bored, or when we just want to hang out with someone who will understand us. Best friends are those we value above all our other friends. Your best friend is the person whom you first think of when you want to share good news, or when you need comforting during bad times.

Friends With Benefits (FWB)

When we were kids, ‘friends with benefits’ might have meant someone with a swimming pool or big backyard. But nowadays ‘friends with benefits’, as we all (presumably) know, means ‘sex buddies’: people who have a sexual relationship without being involved with other aspects typical of an intimate relationship, such as monogamy or explaining their whereabouts or daily activities to one another. Having friends with benefits may at first seem a great way to achieve happiness; but of course, as most people understand, whenever sex is involved in a relationship, things tend to become complicated.

Friends of Friends, or Secondhand Friends

‘Friends of friends’ or ‘secondhand friends’ are an interesting category of friends, in that you may find them to be just as cool as your original friend, or you may find you cannot tolerate them and despise sharing time with them. When a friend introduces you to one of their other friends, they may do so because they think everyone will get along, and to increase the amount of time spent with both (albeit at the cost of one-on-one time). The friend who introduces you to someone annoying, however, may be employing a clever strategy to ditch you both.
You may find that you have more in common with a friend of a friend than with the original friend. When one begins to spend time with the secondhand friend without the original, they are likely to discuss the mutual friend as a means of easing the unfamiliar new friendship; but, eventually it may morph into a true friendship, maintained even when you both move on from the original friend. If this happens, the original friend becomes an ex-friend.


Unsurprisingly, an ex-friend is someone you were once friends with, but are no longer. This is often due to some kind of argument and/or a betrayal. The reason for friends breaking up dictates the level of disdain ex-friends have for one another. A best friend who metaphorically stabs his friend in the back by stealing his girlfriend away via lies and other manipulations is an example of the lowest of the low ex-friends. By contrast, friends who simply drift apart from one another because each has developed interests that are no longer mutual are likely to hold no grudges against one another. Aristotle would consider that to be a natural progression.
If ex-close friends who parted in less than pleasant circumstances cross paths with one another, a great deal of emotion is likely to be let loose. After all, we expect far more from our close and best friends than we do from others. It is best to either try to avoid talking to an acrimoniously ex-friend or, at the very least, try to be a better person. Civil ex-friends will avoid slandering one another, keep long-held secrets, and just move on. Being civil might be difficult, especially if you want to rip his/her head off; but in the long run it’s the best course of action.

Bromance Friends

The term ‘bromance’ is a blend of bro (a slang term for male close or best friends) and romance. The part ‘bro’ reveals that this type of friendship is specifically between males. For the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2016), a bromance is a close nonsexual friendship between men; while the Urban Dictionary (2010) has a variety of entries on bromance, including: a complicated love and affection shared by two straight males; a non-sexual relationship between two men that are unusually close that involves the act of wooing for the purposes of becoming closer; going to unusual lengths in an attempt to become closer with another male friend; and, a close relationship between two bros to such a point where they start to seem like a couple. A bromance then, is a highly-formed friendship between males. While such relationships have likely occurred throughout history (think of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, or Marx and Engels) the word in recent times has become in vogue partly just because historically it has generally been less socially acceptable for males to show emotional closeness than it has been for females.
Whether or not Aristotle would consider two ‘friends of the good’ to constitute a ‘bromance’ remains an open question!

Work Friends

Many people spend more awake time with work friends than they do with most close or best friends or spouses. So it is important to have work friends if for no other reason than it makes the environment more pleasant and less stressful. Employers tend to like work friendships too, as it creates a sense of camaraderie and comfort.
Work friendships develop like most other friendships – naturally and organically. It’s natural to share some of the same interests and dispositions with some of our coworkers. There are also coworkers who we would never have been friends with if we had met under different circumstances.
Among the advantages of work friends is the fact that they understand our job better than most anyone else could; they have seen us at our worse (for example, getting yelled at by the boss, or our pain from personal loss such as the breakup of a marriage or loss of a family member); they celebrate our work achievements with us, and often our personal milestones such as birthdays; and they encourage us to perform, via such methods as brainstorming. Conversely, there are some potential pitfalls with work friendships, including the potential for ‘break-up’ and corresponding ‘ex-friend’ status, which might lead to a degree of discomfort with someone you have to be around; goofing around with your work friend may lead to unprofessional behavior; having gained personal information about you, the work friend might eventually use your vulnerabilities against you; if work friends start to hang out together outside of work, it may throw off the work-personal life balance with other friends and loved ones; and, if the work friend is not in your supervisor’s favor, you may be guilty by association.

Situational Friends

What connects people as situational friends is a specific, and likely dramatic, situation. This type of friendship arises based on shared circumstances with a person with whom you probably do not have any mutual acquaintances and likely share few, if any, interests; but you share an experience.
Sharing an intense situation will often establish strong emotional ties between people. The situation in question can be pleasant, such as attending a lecture, a ballgame, or a concert. Conversely, the situation may be unpleasant, such as being in the same location during a terrorist attack. Amy Moore and Christina Zambrana became friends after surviving the October 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival attack in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed and 546 injured during a mass shooting by a deranged domestic terrorist. Zambrana helped save Moore’s life, and after surviving the killing spree, they discovered that they were both from the Los Angeles area and loved their hometown baseball team, the Dodgers. The Dodgers invited these situational friends to serve as ball girls at Dodgers Stadium during the 2017 World Series, and through this they quickly cemented their friendship.

Neighbor Friendships

This category of friends is also the result of circumstances, but is generally far less intense than a situational friendship.
We rarely choose our neighbors. But while many people ignore their neighbors, some build a friendship. Often, such neighbors serve a utility purpose (for instance, they keep an eye on your home while you’re away, or they’ll sign for a package that’s delivered when you’re out), but other times they bring us pleasure, and may become good friends. The scenario of neighbors as close friends is used by many TV series, including such iconic shows as FriendsSeinfeldNeighbours, and The Good Life. A neighbor-friend is someone you can call to verify that you turned off your stove, or to double-check your front door is locked. As a sign of the contemporary times, a valuable aspect of a neighbor as a friend is the access they let you have to their wi-fi.

Electronic/Cyber Friendships

Until fairly recently, our friendships were primarily restricted to those in close proximity to us, since a minimal requirement of friendship is social interaction. However, people are now able to continue old friendships or establish new friendships with little or no face-to-face interaction via the electronic world of intercomputer communication.
There is some debate over whether or not a strictly electronic relationship can qualify as a real friendship. We believe that while face-to-face relationships are almost always preferable to strictly electronic ones, there is validity in electronic friendships. After all, electronic friendships involve real people who choose to share feelings of affection or personal regard; who support one another emotionally; who share similar interests, and so on. Electronic friendships, then, are as real as the friends make them. The keys to electronic friendships, like to face-to-face friendships, are: voluntary participation, mutuality, sharing personal details about one another, and displaying some degree of affection.


A frenemy (sometimes called a ‘frienemy’), a blending of the words ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’, has a dual meaning, as either an enemy who pretends to be your friend, or as someone who is a real friend and yet is also a rival, such as teammates on a sports team who are friends but competing for the same starting position. Or perhaps a frenemy is a person with whom we outwardly show characteristics of friendship because of certain benefits that come with the façade, but in reality we harbor feelings of resentment or rivalry, and perhaps even do not like them. The Free Dictionary defines a frenemy as a person who is ostensibly friendly or collegial with someone, but who is actually antagonistic or competitive with them; a supposed friend who behaves in a treacherous manner; and, as a person who is considered as both a friend and a rival. The Urban Dictionary also provides a variety of interpretations, including: fake friends you have for selfish purposes (this reminds us that while we may see others as potential frenemies, we too can be the frenemy in order to gain something – a type of fake friend of utility); people you know and are cordial with, but who you don’t really like and who don’t really like you either; and friends you make that were once enemies, because you’re planning to stab them in the back. While people have dealt with frenemies throughout history, like ‘bromance’, the term itself has only been introduced in the past decade or so.

The Quest for Friendship

Clearly, the modern era has many forms of friendship. The voluntary nature of friendship makes such relationships subject to life’s whims in a manner that familial relationships are not. From childhood to high school, to college or the military, to starting a family and starting a career, to retirement, and any other major life event in between, we are constantly going through changes, and it stands to reason that friendships will have to adjust to these life changes as well. When priorities and responsibilities change, so too do most friendships. So cherish the treasured forms of friendships – close and best friends – and move on from the toxic ones – ex-friends and frenemies. Life is a journey made more pleasurable by good quality friendships.
© Tim Delaney and Anastasia Malakhova 2018
Tim Delaney is a professor and department chair of sociology at the State University of New York at Oswego and is the author of numerous books and articles. Please visit
Anastasia Malakhova is an International Relations graduate student at St Petersburg State University in Russia, and has conducted research on friendship and happiness.

A Chinese Philosopher on Friendship

Zhuangzi (4th Century BCE) was one of the founders of Daoism and the main author of the classic philosophical text known by his name. Zhuangzi’s book includes his often witty disputes with his intellectual sparring partner Huizi, an inventor of paradoxes and adherent of a different philosophical school known as the School of Names, or Logicians. It also records this lament:
Zhuangzi was accompanying a funeral when he passed by the grave of Huizi. Turning to his attendants, he said, “There was once a plasterer who, if he got a speck of mud on the tip of his nose no thicker than a fly’s wing, would get his friend Carpenter Shih to slice it off for him. Carpenter Shih, whirling his hatchet with a noise like the wind, would accept the assignment and proceed to slice, removing every bit of mud without injury to the nose, while the plasterer just stood there completely unperturbed. Lord Yuan of Sung, hearing of this feat, summoned Carpenter Shih and said, ‘Could you try performing it for me?’ But Carpenter Shih replied, ‘It's true that I was once able to slice like that but the material I worked on has been dead these many years.’ Since you died, Master Hui, I have had no material to work on. There’s no one I can talk to any more.”
Zhuangzi, Chapter 24

The Case Against Conceptual Art

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Arts & Letters

The Case Against Conceptual Art

Trevor Pateman makes the case for the prosecution.

Sara Baume’s A Line Made By Walking (2017) is an impressive piece of recent autobiographical fiction. In it, the narrator repeatedly sets herself the task of identifying a work of art – usually a work of conceptual art – which relates to whatever topic she’s currently thinking about.
Some of the works are well-known, such as Tracey Emin’s My Bed (1998) and Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking (1967), but most are more obscure. Though at the end of her book Baume urges us to go to the works ourselves, she has accidentally illustrated the main weakness of conceptual art: you don’t have to see it (or otherwise experience it) in order to respond to it. You just need a description spelling out the idea – the thought – that the actual artwork itself was created to illustrate.
Conceptual art is basically illustration, and that is its weakness and banality as art. That is to say, the realisation of the idea may often be elaborate and costly, and sometimes fleeting, but it is usually pretty much irrelevant. We can debate the concept all night with only a nod to the work which illustrated it. There is really no need for us to confront the work itself (if indeed it still exists to be confronted). Baume says as much herself, through her protagonist Frankie: “Works about Time, I test myself: Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010. A 24-hour film, a collage of extracts… Each extract represents a minute of the day… I have never seen it for real. Right the way through from beginning to end. I don’t imagine many people have. Nevertheless, I love this piece. I love the idea” (p.181). How can you love the piece if you haven’t seen it? All you can love is the idea of it. That’s almost certainly enough; if you already love it, it would almost certainly be a waste of your time to watch it. And you certainly don’t need twenty four hours to get the idea.
Toffee Apple
Toffee Apple by Da Luigi, 2018
Back in 1997, as part of the Turner Prize show, London’s Tate Gallery showed Gillian Wearing’s Sixty Minutes on a large screen. This is a video in which a group of people are lined up and asked to stand stock still for sixty minutes while they are filmed by a static camera. It would have caused a log-jam in the gallery if visitors had paused for sixty minutes to watch it. The gallery correctly assumed that everyone would give it at most a few minutes, to get the general idea, and then move on. I sat cross-legged on the floor (no seats provided) for nineteen minutes, outlasting every other visitor in that period by at least seventeen minutes. What would we say about a cinema film which could not hold its audience for more than a few minutes, after which they would all leave because they had got the general idea? Put differently, Baume could simply have made up the majority of the many conceptual art pieces to which she refers in her novel; and in a work of fiction, who could object to that? There would have been no loss of idea. But we would simply laugh at someone who said of her novel, “I have never actually read it from beginning to end. But I love this work. I love the idea.”
Art is something you have to experience at first hand to respond to it appropriately. You would make a fool of yourself if you started to talk about a painting or a film or a play by saying, “I haven’t seen it but my wife has, and she says…” A picture in a book isn’t enough, either, because for visual artworks there are, at the very least, problems of scale and natural light. So conceptual art fails as art because it invites us to respond to it without experiencing it.
Not so long ago I wrote a critical piece about a painting by a Dutch portrait painter, Simon Maris (1875-1959), which had been re-titled by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: they had changed its title from Young Negro Girl to Young Girl with a Fan. From the museum’s online images I was able to argue that both titles missed the fact that the ‘girl’ was wearing a gold band on her ring finger. Surely she was a married woman? Though re-titled with much attendant publicity, no one appeared to have looked at the painting. Then I travelled over to Amsterdam to look at it for myself. As I entered the room in which it was displayed there was a fairly dramatic shock awaiting me. What had looked like a cheerful yellow bonnet in all the reproductions now suddenly dazzled me as if it were a golden halo. In consequence, what I had hitherto thought of as a fairly formal portrait suddenly took me in another direction, towards the tradition of what are called ‘Black Madonnas’ – portraits or statues of the Virgin Mary with a haloed black face.
The sight of the halo in this case also reminded me of my own conviction: a painting is meant to be seen; and there is really no other way of seeing it properly than standing in front of it. In Painting as an Art, Richard Wollheim (1987) said that he was only going to write about paintings which he had not only seen but spent time with; he gave a guide figure of three hours per painting. That bears some thinking about in a world where a sixty minute video in the Tate Gallery holds the attention of viewers for two minutes at most, and Sara Baume’s narrator can claim to love a work she has never even seen.
© Trevor Pateman 2018
Trevor Pateman’s essay ‘Young Girl With A Fan?’ is in his book The Best I Can Do (2016). He develops materialist ideas about art in Materials and Medium: An Aesthetics (2016).