NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Thursday June 22nd 2017

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REPAIR

“In history, unlike heredity, we choose our ancestors. We choose with monuments, markers and history books. We choose also with bulldozers, by what we remove.”

“Certainly history is important, we say. Children should know history, we say. History is not a flea market or what I throw out today, history is the textbook stuff, history is…important.” …Howard Mansfield “In the Memory House.”

BY ELIZABETH V. SPELMAN

“The Human Being is a repairing animal. Repair is ubiquitous, something we engage in every day and in almost every dimension of our lives. Homo sapiens is also Homo reparans.

Perhaps the most obvious kinds of repair are those having to do with the inanimate objects with which we surround ourselves–the clothes calling out for mending, the automobiles for fixing, the buildings for renovating, the works of art for restoring. But our bodies and souls also are by their very nature subject to fracture and fissure, for which we seek homely recipes for healing and consolation, or perhaps the expert ministrations of surgeons, therapists, and other menders and fixers of all manner of human woes. Relationships between individuals and among nations are notoriously subject to fraying and being rent asunder. From apologies and other informal attempts at patching thins up to law courts, conflict mediation, and truth and reconciliation commissions, we try to reweave what we revealingly call the social fabric. No wonder, then, that H. reparens is always and everywhere on call: we, the world we live in, and the objects and relationships we create are by their very nature things that can break, decay, unravel, fall to pieces.”

“H. reparans can also be found wondering whether sometimes it isn’t the better part of wisdom to leave the flaws, the fragments, the ruins, alone: Restorers of Gone With the Wind had to decide whether a flaw in the original should be ‘fixed or retained as an intrinsic part of the original masterpiece’; echoing the fate of Humpty-Dumpty, a political columnists counsels her readers, ‘You don’t have to be abused or betrayed to have a bad marriage–a marriage that cannot b fixed, even with the help of all the therapists on the Upper West Side, or all the preachers in Louisiana.’ A Sticker on the bottom of a painted floor mat instructs users, ‘Over time, you may notice slight yellowing or cracking. These imperfections are consistent with the nature of hand-made mats and are NOT considered flaws, but rather a normal part of these mats.’ “

“If repair is about trying to preserve some kind of continuity with the past, keeping some aspect of it alive, destruction is about producing discontinuity with the past, trying to make sure the past is past, that it is done with.”

Excerpts from Repair by Elizabeth V. Spelman Beacon Press 2002.

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