“Never Quite Free”: My series on portrayals of penitence concludes

with a look at the Mountain Goats, We Shall All Be Healed. This piece has a couple lines I really like:

One way to mistell stories of penitence is to envision penance as a linear process of restoration. You do a bad thing, you feel bad, you make amends (often in a way which involves saying ritual words like “I’m sorry,” or doing something which offers an obvious symbolic parallel to your wrongdoing), status quo ante. There can be truly sublime portrayals of this kind of almost mathematical penitence—think of the armor-falling scene from The Mission, which was the very first thing I thought of when I first started working on this series—but it’s an oversimplification of the twisting, unpredictable paths of penance and redemption in the real world. We never do get back to where we started. And the strongest theme which has emerged in this series on portrayals of penitence is the possibility that penitence is usually impossible.

That’s one reason it’s appropriate to close with the Mountain Goats indie-rock album We Shall All Be Healed.


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