The “ends” of memory

Over the past few days I’ve been mining the mountain of footage we shot for Hellbound? in search of nuggets to use as special features to the DVD (which comes out on May 28, by the way, the same day we release on iTunes, Amazon, etc). In addition to extra clips from people who appeared in the film, I’m also adding segments from my interviews with Miroslav Volf, Richard Beck, Carlton Pearson, Thomas Talbott and Edward Fudge, all of whom were excellent but for one reason or another did not find their way into the final cut.

Re-experiencing these interviews has been fascinating, because in some cases I actually managed to capture some moments of personal transformation on film. It’s also been interesting to compare what I remember of these interviews with what actually happened. Which brings me to the subject of this post–Miroslav Volf’s superb book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.

Memory and its relationship to identity was central to my conversation with Volf, because what we remember, how we remember and, most importantly, why we remember plays a key role in how we perceive ourselves and others. And when it comes to post-mortem judgment, memory is also central, because what is judgment apart from a verdict pronounced upon a rendering of past events?

In The End of Memory, Volf distinguishes three primary functions of memory. First, it can be used as a sword, as an offensive weapon to accuse, convict and destroy. Memory can also be used as a shield to protect us from future harm. The phrase “Never again” comes to mind. Those who remember past injustices are less apt to repeat them. The problem is, it’s all too easy for the shield of memory to morph into a sword as we seek to pre-empt the slightest hint of threat.

That’s why Volf argues for a third function of memory–memory as a bridge. (Personally, I would have preferred him to use the term “ploughshares” in order to complete the “swords to ploughshares” analogy, but that’s beside the point.). In this instance, memory isn’t just about recalling past injustices, it’s about forgetting them as well. But not until they are acknowledged truthfully by all parties, and then forgiven. That way, neither perpetrators nor victims are forever defined by wrongdoing. Both are free to move on to the highest “end” of memory–reconciliation.

This is picture is as challenging as it is beautiful. I mention it here because I think it neatly forges a path between cheap grace and draconian theories of justice, two caricatures that often derail discussions of “end things.”

The most dangerous people in the world
Check out a new documentary I wrote and edited
Looking for a Christmas gift for that “special someone”? How about a book on hell?
Why so many white evangelical Christians are incompetent scoundrels
About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • David Nybakke

    Kevin, just a paragraph from Session 1 of the Forgiving Victim from James Alison: “It is these attempts to start to tell a story that are what memory consists in. Memory is, among other things, our ability to be viable as a person. Which is why one of the most difficult things for us to come across is a person who either has total amnesia, or is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
    It’s not that they’ve forgotten who they are, as though there were a “self” that held their memories. Quite the reverse, since it is our memory that structures, holds in being, our “selves”, they have lost who they are. Other people have to hold who they are in being for them – know where they come
    from, what they’re about, where they used to live, where they live now, and why. It is not we who have memories. Memories have us. Bizarre though it may be to say so, it is more accurate. It is the memories which give an underpinning of an “I” who is able to tell the story.”
    The mining and the exploration into memory and its relationship to becoming a person can be a powerful and transforming journey. Peace