Sometimes, a title says more than a thousand words. A title informs you about what is to come, how to expect it, how to read. At times, this is merely informative – this is a text about this and that, should these things be interesting to you. At times, the authors take the opportunity to make a play on words – be it in the form of a pun or in other ways. At times, the title is yanked out of the author’s hands and reframed through the practical administrations of an efficient editor – more often than not for the better.
Sometimes, a title signals an ethos; who is company and who is not.
To Our Friends is to be read in this latter sense. Which is to say, it is a text directed at friends, intended to be read as such. This is both subtle and obvious, perhaps more so when read by those who are not friends. Non-friends are likely to find it unconvincing, lacking in substance and in general something of a bloated (and slightly dated) exercise in stylistic prose. Non-friends will find themselves estranged.
That is as it should be. It is signaled in the title. To our friends.
This actualizes the interesting distinction between writing for friends and writing for enemies. All too often, writing is conducted in the company of one’s enemies – one avoids making certain kinds of discursive moves, in the knowledge that there are enemies about ready to pounce at those very acts. Writing happens on the defense, as it were, with strategic measures always-already in place to avoid counterattacks. When enemies are on the prowl, there is no room for intimacy or confidence; such acts will be perceived as weakness and used against the careless author. Instead, arguments need to be as detailed and explicit as possible, so as to avoid the most predictable lines of attack. Writing in the presence of enemies is a difficult, arduous and time-consuming activity.
Imagine, then, setting out to write for one’s friends. It is an altogether different undertaking. Friends know you, and you share an understanding of things that does not need to be explicated in detail to be communicated. A gesture is enough, the conspiracy conveys the rest. Though there is still communicative work to be done – there are always more things to say than time or space to say it – there is less need to be strategic. Conversely, there are also more opportunities to be honest and direct. Friends do not need to be convinced to listen, and thus there is less need to convince them to do it. Listening is what friends are for.
It is tempting to use the word ‘offensive’ as a contrast to the defensive measures mentioned above. To go on the offensive – to make bold claims, to advance to new discursive frontiers, to say things that might not be ready to be said yet but which becomes all the readier for having been said. It is an invitation to one’s friends to think along the same lines, just to try the thought out for size.
This is not the same kind of ‘offensive’ that some enemies claim to represent. This kind of speech is freer than that.
To return to the text. Finding out whether you are a friend or not is as easy as reading it. If you find yourself nodding along, generally attuned to the flow of things, then you might be a friend. If you find yourself wanting to talk back or make reservations, then perhaps you might lean towards non-friend. You will feel it as you read along; it is at once both subtle and obvious.
A propensity to write in the presence of enemies suggests making a preemptive countermove at this point. The objection looms that it is not proper to demand a reader to accept a text as written without reservations or critical feedback. Which is all well and good, as objections go. It is an objection that will serve you well in times ahead.
The point of writing for one’s friends, however, is to not be bogged down in endless countermeasures and preemptive stratagems. The point is to generate permission to write something else, to see where a thought might lead. Moreover, it is an attempt to formulate something as clearly as possible, so as to make it accessible, in the most straightforward way possible. Those who find themselves in the friend-zone will suddenly have their thoughts written down, in no uncertain terms, and thus be able to make better use of these thoughts. The point of writing for one’s friends is to say: this is what it would look like, should we but dare to go on the offensive.
It is a radical move, to be sure. Especially in a text whose subject matter is of such a – to use a word steeped in the logic of countermeasuring – controversial nature. Then again, it might be fruitful to interrogate just which aspect is more controversial: the dismissal of the need to address one’s enemies at every turn, or the discussion of just who the enemy might be.
What follows might surprise you.