When I first moved to New York City almost two decades ago, I would not have expected the annual New York City Marathon to become one of my favorite things about living in the city. But it is, in retrospect, among the most moving civic rituals I have ever witnessed.
The very first New York City Marathon was run the year that I was born. This coming fall — as New York Road Runners confirmed earlier in the week — the marathon’s 50th running will take place (last year’s race was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
We enjoin each other to remember with frequently fraught if well-intentioned formulas, and too commonly imagine the results as inevitably healing. When things turn out otherwise, as they often do, there are those who quickly tell us that we’re just not doing it right — that we need another form of confessional practice, a better set of beliefs, an alternative mode of truth-telling, a different discourse of memory. And maybe we do. Yet when we need them most urgently, we understandably reach for whatever inherited or borrowed words we have at hand.
Read it here: Jonathan VanAntwerpen| What will survive of us is love.
The glimmer of an idea, not even half-formed, that I might write about truth and reconciliation first began to take shape while reading a borrowed book on a sunny beach in southern California. Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa is a “searing and luminous” book by Antjie Krog, an Afrikaner poet who covered the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a journalist.
“By interrogating my social location with a careful eye on thick description that moves between empirics and narrative, I have — over the course of hundreds of essays and more than a decade of public writing for an audience who recognized me as a voice of some kind — tried to explore what our selves say about our society. Along the way, I have shared parts of myself, my history, and my identity to make social theory concrete. The things we touch and smell and see and experience through our senses are how stories become powerful. But I have never wanted to only tell powerfully evocative stories. I have wanted to tell evocative stories that become a problem for power. For that, I draw upon data and research.”
from Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Think And Other Essays
“The idea of the study of religion was founded in a simple description of the religious not as something out there but as something in here, among us. When Durkheim said, ‘the idea of society is the soul of religion,’ he was speaking merely to the Aborigines that comprised his primary physical evidence. He was also asking us implicitly to name ours: to name our society by naming the soul that we thought guided it. We can divide the work of the humanities from that of theology, and we can imagine the study of religion is of them and not…
“Is there something to be gained from grieving, from tarrying with grief, from remaining exposed to its unbearability and not endeavoring to seek a resolution for grief through violence? Is there something to be gained in the political domain by maintaining grief as part of the framework within which we think our international ties? If we stay with the sense of loss, are we left feeling only passive and powerless, as some might fear? Or are we, rather, returned to a sense of human vulnerability, to our collective responsibility for the physical lives of one another? Could the experience of…
“In order to approach now the very concept of forgiveness, logic and common sense agree for once with the paradox: it is necessary, it seems to me, to begin from the fact that, yes, there is the unforgivable. Is this not, in truth, the only thing to forgive? The only thing that calls for forgiveness? If one is only prepared to forgive what appears forgivable, what the church calls ‘venial sin’, then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear. If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia, which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable.”
from Jacques Derrida’s On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness
“If you make things, if you are an ‘artist’ of whatever stripe, at some point you will be asked — or may ask yourself — ‘why’ you act, sculpt, paint, whatever. In the writing world, this question never seems to get old. In each generation, a few too many people will feel moved to pen an essay called, inevitably, ‘Why I Write’ or ‘Why Write?’ under which title you’ll find a lot of convoluted, more or less self-regarding reasons and explanations. (I’ve contributed to this genre myself.) Only a few of them are any good and none of them (including…
“But if suffering is so hard, why should its expression be easy? Trauma and loss are not, in themselves, art: they are like half a metaphor. In fact, the kind of work I mean — however true its personal source — is tainted by a kind of preemptive avidity. It seems too ready to inhabit the most dramatic extremes; too ready to deny loss as continuity, as immutable fact. It proposes instead a narrative of personal triumph, a narrative filled with markers like ‘growth’ and ‘healing’ and ‘self-realization’ and culminating in the soul’s unqualified or comprehensive declaration of wholeness, as though loss were merely a catalyst for self-improvement. But as the power of loss is undermined or denied, so too does the speaker come to seem entirely constructed, inhuman.”
from Louise Glück’s “The Culture of Healing” in American Originality: Essays on Poetry
“The price of living with a writer was that eventually she would write about you. I was taking in every precious day. What Sooki gave me was a sense of order, a sense of God, the God of Sister Nena, the God of my childhood, a belief that I had gone into my study one night and picked up the right book from the hundred books that were there because I was meant to. I had a purpose to serve. The CA 19–9 had gone from 2,100 to 470. The tumor in her liver was shrinking. A hundred thousand people…
Jonathan VanAntwerpen is a program director at the Henry Luce Foundation. Originally trained as a philosopher, he holds a Ph.D. in sociology from UC-Berkeley.