I am grateful both to the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy’s organizers for scheduling a session on my work and to the panelists who so graciously fulfilled the rather selfless task of devoting their time and energy to the responses making up that session. It is an honor, and still something of a surprise, to have several smart people discussing my texts and to have the opportunity to take up those responses for a few, admittedly overgeneral, thoughts of my own.
I cannot really think (those thoughts or any others) in distinction from writing or write in distinction from the carnal. This thinking-writing- moving process tends to start in an obsession with something fairly small—an idea, a passage, a sentence, sometimes just a phrase. Usually, these are in tension to the point of paradox with some other idea or sentence or phrase;1 I am almost never intrigued by anything unidirectional and easy. I am particularly charmed that Rick Lee has called me patient, even if only about original sin, as it seems to me that impatience may well be my greatest scholarly flaw. But obsession, in its persistence, may pass for patience too—and my concerns and interests do come back anew. Each time it seems to me that they were always there, and I am only uncovering [End Page 435] them—and being surprised by them every time. I think Professor Lee is utterly right that we have suppressed rather than gotten beyond what is actually interesting about a lot of philosophical and religious history; and I hope he’s right, because given the way I return to the same themes, I never seem to get beyond anything. Bodies. Desires. Times. Words. But how could anyone not love these things, not obsessively return to them? Oh, yes: I never get beyond returning, either, especially in its eternal versions and in its fascinating tension with newness.
That tendency to obsess on tiny points, combined with another to draw intriguing bits from all over, to try to weave them into sometimes unobvious places, occasionally gets me into the kind of trouble that Professors Kearney and Huntington both note. My book Fragmentation and Memory is concerned with the breakages of time and in it, with mendings and recollections and those aforementioned returns. In one chapter I take up the topic of forgiveness, beginning with a passage on penance and reconciliation from the Baltimore Catechism (the book is, not irrelevantly, subtitled Meditations on Christian Doctrine). Roughly, I argue that forgiveness opens the future not by forgetting but by remaking the meaning of memory such that the absolute hold of the past upon the future is released and the latter is allowed its proper futurity—that is, its uncertainty and openness, its nature as the space of the possible. Forgiveness is a mode of temporal revelation.
To try to render this vivid, I look at two of the more extreme ways in which futurity can be foreclosed and cut off: trauma, in which the unremembered or imperfectly remembered past forces the future into repetition; and damnation, read in the Deleuzean/Leibnizian mode as the furious refusal of every possibility opened by love.2 The terms are neither wholly cognate nor simply reversible: the Deleuzean damned might justly be called self-traumatizing, but the traumatized cannot rightly be called self-damning. Beyond the nuances of temporal differences, the distinction from trauma is a vital one: that of will. Part of therapeutic making-conscious is making more readily available to will; the therapist does not forgive but makes it possible for the person she hears to do so—or not to— though deliberative will alone is not all that’s at work. It would be absurd for anyone to downplay the difference between a stubborn choice and an imposed misery but especially absurd for someone who’s been fairly obsessed with will and the ways it can be turned about and knotted up.
Why parallel the two at all? Because both fragment by totalizing, by making time one, making the future and the eternal resemble only the past. [End Page 436] Forgiveness has to open, and so cannot...