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CANES Lecture: Cicero, Atticus, and the Spectral Life of Friends (Cicero, ad Atticum 1)

March 30, 2021 @ 12:15 pm - 1:30 pm

Francesca Martelli (UCLA)
“Cicero, Atticus, and the spectral life of friends (Cicero, ad Atticum 1)”

Abstract: One friend always dies before the other, leaving the other to mourn: throughout his late works, Derrida sees mourning (and loss) as a precondition for the conjoined life of friends, a premise that makes the intimate dynamics of friendship as spectral as other global phenomena whose temporal interactions are similarly structured around various forms of privation. But how does the distinctive temporality of friendship intervene in the temporal ruptures that characterise wider moments of social, political or ecological crisis or conflict? How do its anticipated losses accommodate or compensate for the abyssal gaps that open up at these end times?

In this paper, I attempt to parse the privative structure of friendship, and its capacity to incorporate wider social and political ruptures into its procedures of mourning, by considering an ancient text that exemplifies these dynamics. Cicero’s friendship with Atticus is one of history’s most famous friendships, and informed Derrida’s Politiques de l’amitié in important ways. His surviving letters to Atticus were collected posthumously and published in a sixteen-book volume of letters, which both immortalises their friendship and tracks the political transformations with which that friendship coincides: namely, the demise of Republican government at Rome, and its replacement by monarchy (an event that incurred Cicero’s own death). In this paper, I consider how the opening book of their correspondence anticipates Cicero’s old age and death some twenty years in the future. I argue that the letter sequence that opens their correspondence has been chosen because of the ways in which it echoes (or anticipates) the themes and dramatic situations of the ethical dialogues that he wrote toward the very end of his life, as that ending is made to haunt the very start of his friendship with Atticus like a spectre. Published after the political crisis in which Cicero himself died, this letter collection performs the work of mourning for the system of government that died with him. My paper also considers how the ad Atticum’s portrait of a friendship continues to resonate beyond its historical context, and to haunt our own end times.

Zoom link
Meeting ID: 935 5842 8040
Passcode: 862493