Bleh

Really not feeling anything on the internet today. I’m trying to finish up Elizabeth Spelman’s Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, which I would not recommend purchasing, but is worth checking out from your library. I’ve just finished a part on apologies, which I am mulling over, hard, about how there is a way in which apologizing puts the onus back on the wronged person and, often, allows the greater society to feel like things have been righted, and that you are a butt-hole if you don’t accept the apology.

She also has a really interesting moment where she talks about how people who’ve been in prison in our country for, say, two years, are seen by our broader society as being tainted by the experience or made, by that experience, to be, using her theme, beyond repair. But how we love, love, love these triumphant stories in which someone was in a concentration camp for, say, two years and emerges again whole and triumphant (even if it takes some years for this to be so). And how, in fact, the broader culture almost doesn’t trust or sees as tragedy (or comedy, I guess in some cases) when neither circumstances are true.

I’m not really doing her argument justice, but I think one of the things that she’s trying to get at is actually something I deeply agree with–we try very hard to cram lives into tidy narratives. We are, at heart, story-tellers. It’s not an inherently bad impulse. Hell, I love to tell stories myself.

But it always requires you to hold onto the realization that your telling a story, a version of the truth, or else it moves from storytelling into lying.

I don’t know. I’ve just been mulling it over. Considering that I’m in the middle of acting on a compulsion I feel in myself that I don’t wholly understand to trap myself with people who could not make it clearer that they don’t even really like me this weekend, it may resonate more strongly for me than it would for others.

In other words, I suspect it might be a stupid book, but I’m thinking hard about it.

6 thoughts on “Bleh

  1. I’d never heard of her before you posted this. But the argument sounds interesting and distinctly not stupid. Creating a narrative could also result in adding complexity, not subtracting it. People can create drama out of nothing as easily as they can avoid nuance and ignore everything that doesn’t fit. Which is NOT to say that you are doing either here. But your weekend might well involve created drama not of your making….

  2. “which I would not recommend purchasing, but is worth checking out from your library” seems exactly right. And might be true of lots of academic books, even those written to a wider audience (even if that doesn’t bode well for academic publishers). Although I do wonder how many libraries have it. She’s much more known for her work on women of color in (or not in) the history of philosophy.

    I am glad you are enjoying it while also being a tad suspicious. While it is short, it still seems that she is stretching something keen but small into something a tiny bit larger than it can be.

  3. there is a way in which apologizing puts the onus back on the wronged person and, often, allows the greater society to feel like things have been righted, and that you are a butt-hole if you don’t accept the apology.

    Unfortunately I’ve faced this in the last few years. Apparently some folks are of the belief that “I’m sorry” can only be magic words that allow continued poor treatment, not just a descriptive phrase.

    Apologies, forgiveness, and reconciliation are different words because they’re different concepts. One person’s apology – whether it’s real or a false “I’m sorry you feel this way”-type apology – is not some key to unlocking forgiveness, and not something that instantly leads to reconciliation. It is a step down a path that may lead to reconciliation, if the wronged party so desires.

    I’m of the opinion that an apology given to force the wronged party into prematurely reconciling is no apology at all.

  4. I once told a roomful of people that the movie “The Abyss” was an abominable waste of time . . . except for the really astounding concept that we could breathe oxygenated water into our lungs the way we did in utero . . . and except for the astounding moment with the finger of water that snakes its way through the ship mimics the face of the first person it encounters . . . and except for . . . you get my point. The more you wrestle with the concepts in this book you can’t recommend, the more you’ll be forced to admit it was pretty valuable after all :) .

  5. I imagine the reason we’re less accepting of ex-cons and more accepting of concentration camp survivors is that the ex-con got there because he or she screwed up their life, while the others were there through no fault of their own. We find it difficult to forgive transgressors and (sometimes) easier to forgive victims.

  6. Concerning apologies, you might be interested to read the book “How Can I Forgive You?” by Janis Abrams Spring, in which she talks about exactly what you’re saying, the onus being on the person wronged by someone just depositing an “I’m sorry” in their lap. True forgiveness really comes from participation of both parties in the process. But she also discusses different types of forgiveness, and ways to overcome the types of difficulties you seem to have with your family, even without their participation. I found it very helpful in dealing with my own family issues.

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