chapter  4
12 Pages

The Self Rewritten: The Case of Self-Forgiveness


Self-forgiveness is a complex phenomenon that, instructively, takes its identity relationally, and not merely episodically. That is to say, the phenomenon is not one that is hermetically contained within our own refl exive consciousness, but rather is one that by its nature extends out across the divide between ourselves and others, and one that extends beyond the bounds of the present, reaching back into the past, and extending forward into the future across temporal bounds as well. It is, in short, not a phenomenon we can enact in a single moment and achieve in full as the result of one decisive inward act of momentary resolution. Like a life-narrative, self-forgiveness develops as a process that takes place over time: Its character, like narrative, is of a kind that prevents its reduction to a momentary episode. It is thus no surprise that the processes of self-forgiveness are ones that occur as part of, and as interwoven with, a life-narrative, and not merely as the isolated dots of a life’s episodes that such a long-form narrative would connect. And as I will suggest in what follows, such processes of self-forgiveness become themselves self-constitutive, in such a way that the self being forgiven is indeed changed by, and within, that very process of forgiveness. But before turning to that issue, I would like to begin this discussion with an example borrowed (although I will extend it far beyond his description of the case) from Stanley Cavell.1