Thursday, 11 June 2009

Remembering, Forgetting, Forgiving

The last chapter of one of Ricoeur's last books seems to have the suggestive title, Remembering, Forgetting, Forgiving.

We human beings - alone of all animals - live in time. Augustine, according to Keith, saw this as part of our fallen nature. I wonder if that is right. I thought being temporal was part of our human nature! It is more like Heidegger to conflate finitude and fallenness. But I like the expression Keith used in reporting Augustine, that our souls are plastic, they stretch backwards into the past and forward into the future.... And it is true: I am not just a creature of the present; I am, in many ways, my past; my past lives on in me, both my personal and 'my' collective past. And I stretch constantly into the future, anticipating, planning, dreading, looking forward to, expecting....

Ricoeur makes the lovely point, however, that it is not enough to remember. Memory can be cruel. We need to learn to forget, and to forgive. And here, said Keith, Christianity seems to be different from other religions who find it difficult to accept the possibility or the goodness or the rightness of learning to forget and to forgive....

"Do not ask me for forgiveness," says the Jewish survivor to the German lawyer, the protagonist of The Reader. And one understands that. One feels the outrage behind the words. And yet... is there a point at which one must let go of the past? Not necessarily for the sake of the other, but for oneself? Why did Jesus feel the need to repeatedly ask us to forgive? Because, as he himself said, we ourselves need to be forgiven and have indeed been forgiven?

And why do I tend to forget how much I have been forgiven? Why do I find it so hard to forgive, understand, make place for, human foibles, folly, cruelty, ingratitude, coarseness, la-parvah???

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