Much of what we believe is a social construct. In other words, we believe what we believe because the people around us tell us, through their words or actions, to believe it.
For thousands of years, human beings have told each other all kinds of things that people know deep down may not be true: that we will not die and that we will see Grandma again, unless you dare to upset the bonds of shared belief. Imagine a world in which belonging to a community was more liberating than it is today.
Imagine what would happen if we told each other the truth. Imagine what would happen if we supported each other not in a fantasy but a in a celebration of reality. Imagine a world in which we could face reality, including the possibility that for each of us, death is the end. Imagine a world in which we celebrated the reality of our Being fully, without need to know what was under the Christmas tree. Imagine people supporting each other in our lives, just as they are. Imagine living in a world in which people really lived the ideal of “justice for all.”
The power of other people – of even one person – to lend support and provide encouragement, is the main subject of social psychology, an important discipline that is too much ignored. We may think that we are autonomous beings – autonomy is one of our values in this model – but autonomy is mainly an experiential distinction, a way of looking at things. The organic heart may beat or cease to function independent of any other heart but the human mind’s operations are a function of other minds. Probably this is what led Jung and others to posit a collective unconsciousness and others to misinterpret him to imply an outside force disconnected from the evolution of the human mind. All the same, we thrive in the supportive company of others. When the community supports a sounds and sustainable vision for life, the bonds among us work for the betterment of all.
- Adam Sisman, ed., Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Life in Letters (New York Review Books, 2017): “Fermor’s letters were, among other things, a way to keep up with friends and repay their hospitality.”
- Eva Hagberg Fisher, How To Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019): “For Hagberg Fisher, there is value in reaching out to others, in showing one’s soft belly. It’s dark stuff, but it comes as a relief, too: We’re in this together.”
- Jami Attenberg, I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writing Myself Home (Ecco, 2022), “an account that wends its way through many themes: looking for a place to belong; moving through the world as a woman; what it’s like to build a life without making the expected moves of marrying and having a nuclear family.”
Community and national belonging:
- Sisonke Msimang, Always Another Country (World Editions, 2018), a memoir about where we feel we belong: “Msimang, a South African writer and political analyst, charts an alternate course to the now familiar conclusion that home is not always a place on a map.”
- Laila Lalami, Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America (Pantheon, 2020): “It doesn’t take long for her — an immigrant, woman, Arab and Muslim — to grasp the yawning gap between the ideal taught in civics lessons and reality. In many ways, she argues, she is a 'conditional citizen,' one who soon understands what it is like 'for a country to embrace you with one arm and push you away with the other.'”
- Karla Cornejo Villavicenzio, The Undocumented Americans (One World, 2020): “Over about a decade of sporadic reporting, Cornejo Villavicencio traveled the country, gaining access to vigilantly guarded communities whose stories are largely absent from modern journalism and literature.”
- Naben Ruthnum, Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race (Coach House Books, 2017): “Ruthnum’s explorations of both food and literature include insightful forays into nostalgia, authenticity, belonging, and the sense of in-between worlds in which the children of immigrants live.”
From the dark side:
- T Kira Madden, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019): “The tribe of fatherless girls that make up T Kira Madden’s titular chapter are three high school friends bonded by loss, lust, recklessness and love. But the tribe extends much further, shape-shifting throughout the memoir from youthful friendships to romantic partners, from a nuclear family to a revision of that family history.”
- Louisa Lim, Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong (Riverhead, 2022): “The engine for this vivid, loving book is Lim’s insistent questioning — her recognition that whatever comes next for Hong Kong will require not only fortitude but also willful acts of imagination. 'We had lost our old city forever, and our old selves along with that,' she writes. 'We had no choice but to reinvent ourselves.'”
What he loved above all else in the maternal edifice, that which aroused his soul, and made it open its poor wings, which it kept so miserably folded in its cavern, that which sometimes rendered him even happy, was the bells. He loved them, fondled them, talked to them, understood them. From the chime in the spire, over the intersection of the aisles and nave, to the great bell of the front, he cherished a tenderness for them all. The central spire and the two towers were to him as three great cages, whose birds, reared by himself, sang for him alone. Yet it was these very bells which had made him deaf; but mothers often love best that child which has caused them the most suffering.
It is true that their voice was the only one which he could still hear. On this score, the big bell was his beloved. It was she whom he preferred out of all that family of noisy girls which bustled above him, on festival days. This bell was named Marie. She was alone in the southern tower, with her sister Jacqueline, a bell of lesser size, shut up in a smaller cage beside hers. This Jacqueline was so called from the name of the wife of Jean Montagu, who had given it to the church, which had not prevented his going and figuring without his head at Montfaucon. In the second tower there were six other bells, and, finally, six smaller ones inhabited the belfry over the crossing, with the wooden bell, which rang only between after dinner on Good Friday and the morning of the day before Easter. So Quasimodo had fifteen bells in his seraglio; but big Marie was his favorite. [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume I, Book Fourth, Chapter III, “Immanis Pecoris Custos, Immanior Ipse”.]
Personal belonging and friendships:
- Erin Bow, Plain Kate (Arthur A Levine Books, 2010), about a young girl's search for acceptance and the perilous task of fitting into a difficult society.
- Nell Freudenberger, Lost and Wanted: A Novel (Knopf, 2019): “Freudenberger navigates complicated concepts from physics with admirable clarity, and those concepts — entanglement, uncertainty, gravitational waves — help us feel in new ways the ongoing influence of dormant friendships, the difficulties involved with believing in attachments that can’t be observed, the enduring pull of discarded hopes.”
- Isabel Allende, Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel (Ballantine Books, 2020): “. . . there is the sense that every human life is an odyssey, and that how and where we connect creates the fabric of our existence: the source of our humanity. If what happens to us — the axis of our fate — is nearly always beyond our control, stubbornly unchangeable, we can still choose what we cleave to and fight for, refusing to be vanquished. This is true belonging, and how we build a world.”
- David Goodwillie, Kings County: A Novel (Avid Reader, 2020): “It’s not their originality or their coolness that makes them appealing — it’s something else, a willingness to go all-in that transcends where they live or how they dress.”
- Yoon Choi, Skinship: Stories (Knopf, 2021): “. . . in Korean culture, (skinship is) a portmanteau of the two English words “skin” and “friendship,” meaning nonsexual but affectionate physical contact between friends or loved ones . . .”
- Simone de Beauvoir, Inseparable: A Never-Before-Published Novel (1954): “. . . based on her friendship with Élisabeth Lacoin. There is an ethical, and even political, dimension to Beauvoir’s will to remember this friend, through whose mirror she sought to loosen the silken chains binding them both to outdated ideals of femininity.”
- Isaac Fellman, Dead Collections: A Novel (Penguin Books, 2022): “He’s a Transgender Archivist and a Vampire, and He’s in Love” – vampirism as a metaphor for being transgender.
Community and national belonging:
- Ayad Akhtar, Homeland Elegies: A Novel (Little, Brown & Co., 2020): “. . . a very American novel. It’s a lover’s quarrel with this country, and at its best it has candor and seriousness to burn.” (‘about the dream of national belonging that has receded for Muslim Americans since 2001’)
- Sanjena Sathian, Gold Diggers: A Novel (Penguin Press, 2021): “This intimate glimpse of millennials who are second-generation Americans . . . shows how history repeats. It is a story of immigrants reaping their futures from property they have found, which is not theirs — or is it?”
- Andrew O’Hagan, Mayflies: A Novel (McClelland and Stewart, 2021): “. . . a bittersweet tale of friendship”.
- Paul Mendez, Rainbow Milk: A Novel (Doubleday, 2021): “Mendez balances the story atop the shifting tectonic plates of dislocation, and in the gaps Jesse discovers new friends and lovers who show him, through unexpected kindness, what it’s like to be seen.”
- Anthony Veasna So, Afterparties: Stories (Ecco, 2021): “The new generation isn’t sure where it fits in. Its members clown about being ‘off-brand Asians with dark skin.’ One young woman says, ‘Forty years ago our parents survived Pol Pot, and , what the holy [expletive] are we even doing?’”
From the light and dark sides:
- Teddy Wayne, Apartment: A Novel (Bloomsbury, 2020): the postitive and negative sides of friendship, and relationships generally – the novel is “. . . about a volatile friendship between two men enrolled in Columbia University’s M.F.A. program in creative writing in 1996.”
- Becky Albertalli, Kate in Waiting: A Novel (Balzer + Bray, 2021): “. . . on battling over a boy in the best way possible”.
- Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, American Estrangement: Stories (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021): “Stories That Render America Just Strange Enough to Recognize”.
From the dark side:
Abdulrazak Gurnah of Tanzania won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. His novels include:
- Memory of Departure: A Novel (1987): “This haunting coming-of-age novel evokes in spare but vivid prose the exotic sights, sounds and landscapes of coastal East Africa and the spiritual rebirth of a sensitive 15-year-old.”
- Pilgrims Way: A Novel (1988): the protagonists “are people who are plainly marked by their skin color, foreign in the country they live in. And they will remain foreign, because this is the role that is assigned to them all over again every single day.”
- Dottie: A Novel (1990): “Dottie Badoura Fatma Balfour finds solace amidst the squalor of her childhood by spinning warm tales of affection about her beautiful names.”
- Paradise: A Novel (1994): set in colonial East Africa during World War I: “Gurnah's powerful, ironically titled story evokes the Edenic natural beauty of a continent on the verge of full-scale imperialist takeover by the European powers.”
- Admiring Silence: A Novel (1996): “This tightly focused story of an unnamed Zanzibarian expatriate who returns home after a 20-year exile in England poignantly evokes the cultural limbo of many emigres.”
- By the Sea: A Novel (2001), narrated by an elderly asylum-seeker living in an English seaside town: “Even when the winds of history push them toward other, less hospitable shores—England, or the old, Marxist East Germany—Gurnah's characters are still the embodiment of mythic Zanzibar.”
Desertion: A Novel (2005): “An initially unidentified narrator reveals events following the 1899 appearance of orientalist Martin Pearce in an unnamed village on Africa’s east coast, in what was then the Uganda Protectorate.”
- The Last Gift: A Novel (2011) “explores immigrant experiences of identity, roots and family”.
- Gravel Heart: A Novel (Bloomsbury, 2017): “Gurnah hits upon an intriguing conflict: the post-colonial individual who becomes anglicised out of choice.”
- Afterlives: A Novel (2020): “This compelling novel focuses on those enduring German rule in East Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century”.
- Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, At the End of the Century: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Counterpoint, 2018): “The stories — all of them elegantly plotted and unsentimental, with an addictive, told-over-tea quality — are largely character studies of people isolated, often tragically, by custom or self-delusion.”
- Laila Lalami, The Other Americans: A Novel (Pantheon, 2019): “ . . . all of the novel’s speakers — regardless of race, class, gender, political affiliation, legal status or place of birth — see themselves as outsiders to mainstream American identity. This is a powerful setup, raising the question of whether anyone feels that today’s America is one to which he or she belongs.”
- Kazuo Ishigugo, Klara and the Sun: A Novel (Knopf, 2021): “What is it like to inhabit a world whose mores and ideas have passed you by? What happens to the people who must be cast aside in order for others to move forward?”
- Kyle Lukoff, Too Bright to See (Dial Books, 2021): “A young person, over one key summer, finds themself, embraces that self and moves on into the future stronger, more certain. Who could possibly object? Well, the young person in question is transgender, and the world into which this book is published is an increasingly unfriendly one for these children.”
- Yoko Tawada, Scattered All Over the Earth (New Directions, 2022): “When Nations Disappear, What Happens to Nationalities?”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Mozart's mature sonatas for violin and fortepiano express the virtue of friendship with Mozart's unique sunny and playful exuberance.
- Violin Sonata No. 17 in C major, K. 296 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 18 in G major, K. 301 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 19 in E flat major, K. 302 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 20 in C major, K. 303 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 21 in E minor, K. 304 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 22 in A major, K. 305 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 23 in D major, K. 306 (1778)
- Violin Sonata No. 24 in F major, K. 376 (1781)
- Violin Sonata No. 25 in F major, K. 377 (1781)
- Violin Sonata No. 26 in B flat major, K. 378
- Violin Sonata No. 27 in G major, K. 379
- Violin Sonata No. 28 in E flat major, K. 380
- Violin Sonata No. 29 in A Major, K 402 (1782)
- Violin Sonata No. 30 in C Major, K 403 (1784?)
- Violin Sonata No. 31 in C Major, K 404 (1786?) (unfinished)
- Violin Sonata No. 32 in B flat major, K 454 (1784)
- Violin Sonata No. 33 in E flat major, K. 481 (1785)
- Violin Sonata No. 34 in A major, K. 526 (1787)
- Violin Sonata No. 36 in F Major, K 547 (1788)
Works by Charles Koechlin:
- Clarinet Sonata No. 1, Op. 85 (1923)
- Clarinet Sonata No. 2, Op. 86 (1923)
- Sonatine Modale for flute & clarinet, Op. 155a (1936)
- 14 Pièces for clarinet & piano, 178 (1942)
- Miscellaneous works for clarinet, flute and piano, flute and piano, or clarinet and piano
- Baksa, Sonata da Camera (1994)
- Varanda, “The Reunion Project”
- Oregon, “Friends”
- The Raritan Players, “In the Salon of Madame Brillon: Music and Friendship in Benjamin Franklin’s Paris”
- Danilo Brito & João Ruiz, “Esquina de São Paulo”: this guitarist and mandolist had been friends for twenty years when they recorded this album, united in their passion for choro, a form of popular music from their native Brazil.
From the dark side, generally:
- Botti, The Journey Without Her
- Fagerlund, Cello Concerto, “Nomade”
- Australian Art Orchestra, “Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space” album
- Carl Czerny, Romantic Fantasy No. 3 on Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe", Op. 242 - a main theme is “dispossession, or the depriving of home, possession, or security, on several levels: national, individual, and cultural”.
From the dark side: diaspora:
- Minakakis, “Crossings Cycle”, “a visceral musical response to the experience of observing Syrian refugees on the Isle of Lesbos.”
- Brown, “un/bodying/s” “explores the history of the displaced populations of Quabbin, the Swift River Valley in Western Massachusetts, including the Native Americans moved by incoming Europeans, and then those Europeans relocated by the State when creating the massive reservoir that supplies Boston with water.”
- Findley, The Story of Our Journey, a work that “gives voice to refugees worldwide through their personal experiences of several individuals interviewed by the refugee advocacy organization Their Story is Our Story (TSOS). This multimedia composition recounts their escape from their homelands to foreign lands.”
- Dina e Mel, “Bërbili” (Nightingale): “forgotten songs of the Arbanasi people who migrated from the Skadar Lake to the Zadar area in the early 18th century”.
- Branko Mataja was a Nazi concentration camp survivor and a displaced person after the war. Perhaps those experiences informed his haunting electric guitar style, as on “Over Fields and Mountains”.
Film and Stage
- Taxi Driver, about a Viet Nam war veteran with violent inclinations, which turn toward the salvation of a teenage prostitute: the “steam billowing up around the manhole cover in the street is a dead giveaway” that “Manhattan is a thin cement lid over the entrance to hell, and the lid is full of cracks”; the man is a loner but not by choice, failing in every attempt at human relationships
- Moonrise Kingdom: two emotionally troubled pre-teens, a boy and a girl, find belonging with each other, and the instruments in the orchestral numbers, especially in the sequence as the credits run, serve as a metaphor for the theme of belonging.
- Up, in which an elderly widower takes on a new family
- Farewell, My Concubine, a story about two men, beginning with their boyhood as castaways to the Peking Opera School with “nowhere else to turn”
- Mosquita y Mari, a film about two adolescent girls whose “friendship is genuine refuge”
- The Kid With a Bike: abandoned by his father, an eleven-year-old boy skirts disaster
- My Life As a Zucchini (Ma Vie de Courgette): orphaned children make their own family
- Henry David Thoreau, “Friendship”
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Love’s Philosophy”
- Robert Frost, “Iris By Night” (analysis)
Books of poetry:
- Baba Badji, Ghost Letters (Parlor Press, 2021): “Baba Badji uses English, French, Arabic, and Wolof to find belonging and move through the trauma of being an outsider”.
- Thera Almontaser, The Wild Fox of Yemen: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2021) is “. . . a dazzling exploration of a life caught between different cultures”.