25 Jan

Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006)

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 01/25/07

"Although the book may be hazardous to recent conventional 'wisdom' about the memory of wrongs, it is, I believe, good medicine for our cultural health and personal flourishing. The warning appropriate to this book isn't like the one on a life-endangering pack of cigarettes—it's like the one on a life-enhancing bottle of medicine apprising the taker of the temporary discomforts that accompany its curative effects." Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory

Theologian Miroslav Volf's disclaimer about his new book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, comes at the end of his detailed discussion of the necessity for and practice of remembering well the wrongs one has suffered. Volf, a guest on Volume 56 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal and author of Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, writes: "Freedom from guilt requires that the light of truth shine into the dark corners of our lives, whether in this life through uncoerced confession, private or public, or at the doorway to eternity during God's final judgment. The same is true in regard to the wounds caused by wrongdoing. We must name the troubling past truthfully—we must come to clarity about what happened, how we reacted to it, and how we are reacting to it now—to be freed from its destructive hold on our lives. Granted, truthful naming will not by itself heal memories of wrongs suffered; but without truthful naming, all measures we might undertake to heal such memories will remain incomplete" (p. 75). In The End of Memory, he engages the call to remember both public and private atrocities for the sake of the victims. While remembering is necessary for healing and justice, he notes that if memories are not redeemed they can actually increase suffering and injustice rather than alleviate them. Volf draws on various sources—including theologians and stories from within the Christian tradition, along with his experiences of interrogation as a Yugoslavian soldier—to establish a case for a right way of remembering. He also develops guidelines for how to remember and when to forget.

His challenging discussion is informed and accessible, peppered with stories and metaphors. The contents of the book comprise three parts and ten chapters, a postscript, afterword, acknowledgments section, and index. Part one is titled, "Remember!" and includes the chapters "Memory of Interrogations" and "Memory: Shield and Sword." Part two, "How Should We Remember?", includes the chapters "Speaking Truth, Practicing Grace"; "Wounded Self, Healed Memories"; "Frameworks of Memories"; and "Memory, the Exodus, and the Passion." Part three, "How Long Should We Remember?", includes the chapters "River of Memory, River of Forgetting"; "Defenders of Forgetting"; "Redemption: Harmonizing and Driving Out"; and "Rapt in Goodness." [Posted January 2007, ALG]