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Greg Wolfe

The End of Memory

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"My new book is on the question of memory. My question is, How do those who love remember, especially the injustices that others have done them, or the guilt that they have incurred? Memories can be both a shield and a sword. They are ambiguous. Conflicts around the world are motivated by certain readings of the past. So how does one remember so as to heal wounds rather than deepen them?

"We may need 'eschatological forgetting.' To forgive is to forget. Augustine, at the end of City of God, says that he will remember certain evils -- the ones he has committed, not the ones he has forgiven others for."

Starting with John Locke, Volf says, the West has defined the self by what one remembers. That has been the stable feature of modernity, that we are what our stories are. This means that memories of evil often organize our lives.

"But is that desirable for a world of perfect love?" Volf asks. "Only those who are willing not to remember certain things can remember themselves into the telos of perfect love." Volf does not use the term "forgetting"; his vision is of a messianic age so ennobled by joy, love and embrace of the neighbor that there will be a "not-coming-to-mind," a leave-taking of worldly memories. This, he suggests, is what is meant by Nehemiah's promise of "the joy of Jerusalem." While that day will come only with Jesus' return, we can, in the meantime, strive to approximate that not-coming-to-mind of memories that would provoke anger or aggravate violence.

Miroslav Volf, speaking of his then work-in-progress, now published as The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2006). From an article by Mark Oppenheimer in The Christian Century, January 11, 2003, pp. 18-23. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation.

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I just wrote a paper that seems connected to this. It's about postmodern memory plays and the end of history. In it I look at Martin Shledon's beautiful one-woman play "Rose".

Here's the abstract:

ABSTRACT: Postmodern historians have declared the end of history. The narratives which arranged people and events in a series of causal relationships have fallen into ruin. Only memory remains

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Like Bucky in a way, the first thing that came to mind was, "That's nice, but on the international stage, not everyone wants to not remember." I'm a political junkie. Forgive me. But like Bucky says, that's not really what Greg is talking about here. We here are almost nothing but memory. It is the nature of such a site where few of us actually meet each other consistently. Our personas on board are pretty much what we have allowed to be observed here.

However, there is another persona, or maybe a variety of personas that we are individually here. They are comprised of the portion of what we have chosen to reveal that each of the rest of us now recall and remember each time any one of us sees one's avatar, or reads a post. Do NOT underestimate this. Having been a moderator here, I have had to "get to know'" most of you if you have ventured at all beyond the arts fora. I've had to do that just to know what to expect from you. Don't get paranoid, please. Had I not been a mod, I'd have done the same thing if any of you had engaged me at all in discussion. It's how I operate.

So the questions each of us should ponder:

  • What do we want others to remember of who any of us is here? Can we control/determine that to any extent? And, can I change anything about any "other" personas" out there some might have of me?
  • What does one remember around here about any of the rest of us? What are any of us willing to forget about any of the rest of us if there dawns a fresh iteration of this community?
Edited by Rich Kennedy

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