Forgiveness, Yom Kippur, and Arendt

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and I’ve been talking, a lot, about Arendt.

So via Amy Schiller, who is my student at the Graduate Center, come these perhaps more appropriate words from a perhaps more appropriate text for the holiday, The Human Condition.

The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility is the faculty of forgiving….forgiving relates to the past and serves to undo its deeds…Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell….In this respect, forgiving and making promises are like control mechanisms build into the very faculty to start new and unending processes.

Happy New Year. And have an easy fast.


  1. Brian October 3, 2014 at 5:43 pm | #

    That last sentence really cues up the Kol Nidre. Thank you for this!

  2. Lynne October 4, 2014 at 10:12 am | #

    That is the best thing I have ever read about forgiveness. Thank you!

  3. BillR October 4, 2014 at 10:40 am | #

    Lucky duckies, so many things to choose from to forgive:

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 6, 2014 at 6:24 pm | #

      Say it with me, everyone: “BillR, you have the best links!”

      Forgiveness, political power, and social relations in the real world. It is too late in the day for me to properly formulate a question that encompasses these three matters, but I don’t believe for a second that any question that looks to forgiveness as its central focus can legitimately disregard the other two matters in such an exploration.

      South Africa, anyone?

      Turtle Island after the invasion by Predator, anyone?

      Indonesia and East Timor?

      The Khmer Rouge?

      Turkey and the Armenians?

      Germany, anyone?

  4. Rosalind Petchesky October 4, 2014 at 2:18 pm | #

    This quote from THE HUMAN CONDITION stands in startling contrast to your posting of Sept. 24, on Erev Rosh Hashonah, depicting Arendt as relentless and unforgiving, in relation to ethics and Eichmann. Maybe that’s why Amy sent it to you.

    • jonnybutter October 4, 2014 at 6:21 pm | #

      I don’t see it as such a contrast. In Corey’s other post, I thought the subject was Arendt’s fealty to a kind of unflinching ethical hygiene, rather than her being unforgiving in a personal way. I think you forgive ethical failures in a personal, individual sense of forgiving, and that you never forgive them in the theoretical sense, because if you did how would you know they are failures?

      I also saw it as a sort of oblique corollary to the zionism problem.

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