Remembrance, grief, ties and re-tying

Excerpt from Banner, M. (2014) The Ethics of Everyday Life.  chapter 7 ‘Remembering Christ and Making Time Count: On the Practice and Politics of Memory’, p.175-176; 190-191; 195-197.

ethics of everydayChristianity is a practice of remembering …I suggest that in the practice of mourning in the Greek village du Boulay describes, remembering is performed forgivingly – and that it is this tone of remembrance, taken from the larger context of Christian remembrance into the practice of everyday life, that might be deemed the authentic form of Christian remembrance. …the shaping and freighting of modern memory [is] in ways inimical to the hopes of a practice of remembering forgivingly.

Judith Butler on grief

… in grief and mourning, ‘something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us’.

It is not as if an ‘I’ exists independently over here and then simply loses a ‘you’ over there, especially if the attachment to ‘you’ is part of what composes who ‘I’ am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who ‘am’ I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what we do. On one level, I think I have lost ‘you’ only to discover that ‘I’ have gone missing as well. At another level, perhaps what I have lost ‘in’ you, that for which I have no ready vocabulary, is a relationality that is composed neither exclusively of myself nor you, but is to be conceived as the tie by which those terms are differentiated and related (Butler, J. (2004) Precarious Life, p.22).

So, contrary to the thought of grief as privatizing and depoliticizing, Butler contends that it, in fact, ‘furnishes a sense of political community of a complex order’, ‘bringing to the fore the relational ties that have implications for theorizing fundamental dependency and ethical responsibility. If my fate is not originally or finally separable from yours, then the “we” traversed by a relationality that we cannot easily argue against; or, rather, we can argue against it, but we would be denying something fundamental about the social conditions of our very formation’ (Idem, p22-23). To put it another way, though we often talk about the relationships we ‘have’, this way of speaking attempts to ‘minimise the relationality’. But in grief, this misleading ‘narrative falters’ – for ‘what grief displays… is the thrall in which our relations with others hold us’ (Idem, p23). Desire may reveal the same condition of our being. It is not that we have relationships, but that we are relationships.

This way of imagining community affirms relationality not only as a descriptive or historical fact of our formation, but also as an ongoing normative dimension of our social and political lives, one in which we are compelled to take stock of our interdependence (Idem, p27).

Thus ‘Grief contains the possibility of apprehending a mode of dispossession that is fundamental to who I am’ (Idem, p28). It reveals a vulnerability we cannot will away; instead we must ‘attend to it, even abide by it, as we begin to think about what politics might be implied’ by it (Idem, 29).

Christian remembering forgivingly

Augustine notes…after the saying of the Lord’s Prayer (with its ‘forgive us our sins’), ‘comes the greeting, Peace be with you, and Christians kiss one another with a holy kiss… The Christian imagination is turned first of all to a remembrance of Christ’s forgiving remembrance. The lips follow (with words and gestures of peace), and after the lips the heart – what is thought is then said or mouthed, the will (or heart) should follow. We might say that the right remembering of remembering, invoked and expressed in ritual practice, is to serve as the basis for a wider practice which flows from the heart…

Christian remembrance, whether in grieving death or other grievances, must be done, if it is to be done, Christianly, after the practice of Christ, which is to say forgivingly. So if this practice is to take form among us, it is not a matter of Christians inventing new rites, but of living in accordance with the rites of remembrance that we already have and that seek to colonize our life and times and re-member Christ’s.

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