- Mending: The Hard Work of Repair in a Broken World
Karmen MacKendrick makes Christian dogma accountable to those aspects of human life it too often obscured or evaded: the fundamental realities of time, embodiment, fleshiness, desire, seduction, pleasure, resurrection, and language. Throughout her engagement with the Christian religious heritage, she brings the struggles of life into philosophy so that we cannot, however unwittingly, sidestep the fragile original vocation of both philosophy and theology, to teach us how to forgive, to desire, to mend, and to heal.
In what follows, I focus on Fragmentation and Memory, both because of its remarkable accomplishment and because of its thematic focus.1 I take MacKendrick’s achievement as a necessary starting point when I amplify the disconsolations of philosophy and theology after Auschwitz and when I ponder the impossibilities rather than, as she does, the possibilities of redemption. So I call upon the reader to inhabit the creative tension between laudatory and challenging concern.
In the Beginning Is Trouble
Fragmentation and Memory troubles ontology. A book of manifold virtues, it advances a remarkable attempt to break out of a dualistic, ontological view of wholes and fragments. MacKendrick thus displaces the questionable image of their being an origin of sin outside time and space and instead addresses sin as distractedness from the blessedness we can find in the manner of our living (34, 37–40).2 Three issues intertwine here.
First, there is trouble. Origin is not prior to time. The logically prior dimensions of creation defy spatially chronological expression as if there were a “time-space” before “time-space.”3 [End Page 411]
Second comes more trouble. Origination is bound up with memory or recollection; but memory, itself selective and fragmented, does not recall us to an origin that is whole.4 “We have undervalued the broken,” MacKendrick says (12). In recalling us to the ontological point of our own origination, memory or anamnesis gathers, she suspects, “not the broken bits of a prior whole but an always-prior brokenness” (28).
Third, when we add up trouble with trouble, we discover the marvels too long lost in the neo-Platonic heritage. As MacKendrick shows, and I have long believed, we can give up a two-world doctrine by seeing that memory calls us to a shift in perspective (23, 41). Instead of thinking that eternity lies prior to creation and, by implication, subsists after one departs creation, in an alternate static, “antimaterial,” “antisomatic” reality, MacKendrick rightly emphasizes that the key issue is how to undergo a shift in perspective from one that views eternity as unchanging and outside time to one that apprehends the eternal as “the intensification or enfolding of . . . intelligibility . . . in time” (23–24).
Memory, Sin, Redemption
MacKendrick has learned a few secrets not only from the Christian mystical heritage but from Judaism. Yom Kippur teaches that something precedes creation; this is no simple Bereishit, no mere creation myth, but a midrash that undoes desires for pretemporal stasis and postlife change-lessness. However much Judaic philosophy may have partaken historically of Greek metaphysical notions, its power and impetus lay in the fact that it is antiliteral from the ground up, not bogged down by the need for certainty, and centered on human life. What, then, lies in the “ante” dimensions, the womb of creative origination? MacKendrick, following Elliot Wolfson, gets it right: Judaically understood, “divine forgiveness . . . is fore-given” (57).5
In this Judaic-inflected, Christian vein, MacKendrick argues that original sin is, following Eckhart, a “breaking away” not from a wholeness to a fragmented existence but instead from “attention and desire” for the infinite (35–36). She calls original sin not a willful action but a “distraction” (37).6 And she argues that memory of the prelapsarian state “is the return to that state” (38).7 We “remember before the origin of selfhood” by forgetting the “self” and in this manner find our possibility restored (38). [End Page 412]
I stand in wholehearted concert with MacKendrick when she says, in Eckhartian vein, that “memory does not recreate a past but perspectivally shifts and amplifies a now” (41). Turning attention back “redeems” us in that it mends our separation from...