a becoming whose arc may extend no further

December 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

Emma J is forgiving things.

Two years ago, she taught me to be thankful to the living and the dead. This year I need to learn from her this capacity for forgiveness. My favorite thing about these posts is how sensitive they are to the stark fact that forgiveness isn’t a particularly nice business. These acts of forgiveness, like everything Emma writes, reject always the easy fluid gesture in favor of the hard, knotty path – forgiveness not as absolution but as an act of knowledge, with all the intimacy and difficulty knowledge always entails.

I am trying to wrangle twenty-five pages of dense readerly prose into twenty minutes of loose oratory. I am terrible at this. For the first time in my life, I want to speak from notes. I can’t, because I must send an advance copy of my “paper” (and why do conferences imagine that an act of oratory is a written document?) to the panel’s respondent. I hope that she is like me, and will compose her remarks in the train on her way to the conference, day-of. If she is not like me, I hope she will be able to forgive me.

This work requires a lot of something that I won’t call forgiveness, because I am by nature an unforgiving creature and I would have to battle myself too strenuously to manage it. I don’t, honestly, really believe in forgiveness at all. Repair is the word I prefer.

I am writing about Eve Sedgwick, and about how she knew – though many who’ve followed her don’t know – that repair, like forgiveness, isn’t very nice. It’s not comfortable or easy and it doesn’t really make you feel better. What it does is enable you to survive the present without making claims on the future. The reparative gesture allows you to cohabit with damage, loss, and failure without being destroyed by them.

Not being destroyed might seem like setting the bar a bit low. But at this nadir of term-time, with one deadline or another or all of them at once suspended over all I think and do, investing my time and my energy in this work that is steeped in sorrow, walking through the devastated landscape and remaining whole – even as an ad hoc, patched-together, seam-revealing reassemblage – seems a worthwhile goal for life and reading and writing and relationships alike.

I’d like to say that on Friday. We reassemble ourselves, and sometimes it hurts and sometimes we can’t find the right parts and the wrong ones, good-enough-for-now, chafe against our skin and our spirit, but we reassemble ourselves, and we do it in reading; what little we have to offer each other we find by reading together.

I am translating, here, from this twenty-five page document. Now I must translate it back into something it is possible to speak.

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§ 4 Responses to a becoming whose arc may extend no further

  • Flavia says:

    I think about forgiveness a lot. The most useful statement I’ve come across on the matter is “forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past.” So yeah: it’s about being able to let go of anger in order to survive and be whole oneself — and as such is a relatively selfish gesture. And I can get behind that.

    Best wishes with the paper and the presentation.

  • Lovely post. I too think about forgiveness a lot, and while I agree that it’s about letting go in order to survive (which may have some selfish motivation), I also continue (naively?) to believe that it’s an efficacious and selfless act, something like allowing the forgiven to be wholly selved in all complexity without the expectation of conforming to my will.

  • Dr. Koshary says:

    I would like to claim that I have something useful to say about forgiveness. I think I need more therapy before that becomes true, though.

    In regard to the conference paper, I find it helps to try to explain your topic to someone at a bar after you’ve had a few. We psych ourselves out trying to sound fancy-pants in conference situations, when really, even our colleagues would like us to speak plainly and say something that they can understand through their mild hangover, while sipping their first coffee of the day and thumbing through the program of panels that they will later skip to take a long lunch with friends, all of which whilst ignoring the colleague snoring in the corner.

    Ten pages of plainspoken clarity is your goal. Fire up the still, Moria, and distill that sucker.

  • Emma J says:

    I so much like these ideas about forgiveness that I will probably be pulling at them and playing with them in the coming month. Reassemblage doesn’t sound like setting the bar too low to me, it sounds like the kind of realistic, creative play that is health and love and life on every level from microbial up.

    Good luck with the retranslation. I hope your respondent and your audience all “read” you with the same eloquent compassion with which you’ve read me.

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