Saturday, February 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 33 (Marshal McLuhan)

McLuhan, Marshal
The Gutenberg Galaxy


I think I bought this at Rust Belt Books. Great cover, no?

Yesterday's entry concluded as follows:

I would say that most friendships arise due to circumstances covered under the preceding three varieties of proximity and duration. But what about other forms of friendship? Whence do they arise? And how sustain themselves?

After proximity and duration, I would guess that the next largest group of friendships, while still dependent on those qualities, arise from common interests. This group has a wide variety of possibilities, everything from hobbies to fetishes to ideas. I can think of many, many friendships over the years that were based almost entirely on a shared interest in one thing. I have had drinking and drug friends, chess and poker friends, AA friends, soccer friends, poetry friends, Deadhead friends, movie friends, intellectual friends, and so on.

In most cases, these friendships ebb and flow with my interest level in the various named interests, as well as ongoing proximity. A good example is my friend, C., who I recently reconnected with on Facebook. When I lived in NYC, C. was an undercover narcotics officer for the NYPD. He spent a lot of time working on "buy and bust" operations in my neighborhood in the East Village. The building next door to mine housed one of the biggest heroin operations in the city from the late eighties through the mid-nineties.

I met C., through a roommate of mine and we discovered a mutual love of chess. C. would come over to my apartment often to play. Sometimes he would finish his shift working undercover as a junkie and buzz up. He'd sit down on the futon, remove his gun and set it on the table, then pour himself a drink and light up a cigarette. We'd sit and play chess for hours, one game after another.

The two of us had very little in common besides pleasure we derived from playing chess. When I left New York, our friendship faded. The feeling I have abou that friendship's passing is much different than, say, the one with M. described a few days ago. My friendship with C. depended on proximity and mutual interest and when proximity was removed from the equation there was nothing left to sustain it. I think I understood that implicitly throughout the period I knew him.

With friends like M., however, the combination of proximity and long duration led me to expect something more of the friendship. The fact that were were near one another over a long period of time and shared several common interests led me to believe that the friendship was based on something more permanent. This turned out to be an illusion.

When I first arrived at Fordham, my third college in two years, drinking and drugs were beginning to take their toll on my life. I began seriously thinking about checking into rehab. I mostly kept this to myself because I had started hanging around with a group of guys, several of them high school friends, who were heavy partiers.

One morning I woke from several days of partying in a the bed of those friends. I think he must have been at his girlfriend's. Anyhow, another friend, M., also a high school friend, slept in the other bed in the dorm room. When he awoke, he said, "I have to stop drinking." I said I did too and that if he were serious I was read and we could start going to AA that night. He said ok and neither of us has had a drink since.

The reason I tell this story is to illustrate another facet of friendship. As I said, all of our friends were heavy drinkers, and they all lived in the same suite in the dorm. I lived separately, but spent most of my time among them. When M. and I decided to go to AA, we triumphantly announced this fact to our friends, who had just settled in front of the TV with a case of beer and a full bong.

We were met with laughs at first, then disbelief, then panic, then rising anger. One even started yelling. He said that by saying we were alcoholics wer were also saying they were alcoholics and that THEY WERE NOT alcoholics.

The next several months were quite painful, as M. still lived in the same suite with them and they were nothing if not unhappy.The following year we rented an apartment off campus and remained roommates throughout college. Our friendships with that group were permanently damaged, as they had been based on one thing, partying, and without that we discovered we had nothing, except perhaps a shared past, in common.

I have to run to doggy obedience training, so I'll stop there. I think that I may have just stumbled upon another aspect of friendship to discuss tomorrow: nostalgia.

from The Gutenberg Galaxy

In the electronic age which succeeds the typographic and mechanical era of the past five hundred years, we encounter new shapes and structures of human interdependence and of expression which are "oral" in form even when the components of the situation may be non-verbal.

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