Coetzee on Social Obligations

I was reading J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, when I came across this passage that illustrates so well how differently two people can view the same "friendship." (Much more elegant than the language of social networks: how two different "nodes" perceive the same "link." It is neat when your fiction reading converges with your nonfiction reading, isn’t it?)

‘I’m all right. Light burns, nothing serious. I’m sorry we’ve ruined your evening.’

‘Nonsense!" says Bill Shaw. "What else are friends for? You would have done the same.’

Spoken without irony, the words stay with him and will not go away. Bill Shaw believes that if he, Bill Shaw, had been hit over the head and set on fire, then he, David Lurie, would have driven to the hospital and sat waiting, without so much as a newspaper to read, to fetch him home. Bill Shaw believes that, because he and David Lurie once had a cup of tea together, David Lurie is his friend, and the two of them have obligations towards each other. Is Bill Shaw wrong or right? Has Bill Shaw, who was born in Hankey, not two hundred kilometers away, and works in a hardware shop, seen so little of the world that he does not know there are men who do not readily make friends, whose attitude towards friendships between men is corroded with scepticism?


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