Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, June 23, 2006


I heard on the BBC this morning that some fellow had travelled to Gambia, presented himself in chains to an audience of 3,000 people, and asked for their forgiveness for the sins of his forebears from the 1600s for their role in the slave trade. He was formally forgiven by Gambia's vice-president, who symbolically released him from his chains.

(Incidently, I tried to google up the news story, but there are scadzillions of links related to slavery reparation. I had to go to the BBC website to find it. My blog will only add to the noise.)

Now, there were mixed reactions to this apology; some of the crowd had positive responses, and some negative. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about it. It seems rather self-indulgent to allow yourself the mantle of sins committed by someone else 400 years ago . . . as if you matter that much. It seems even more indulgent to accept the forgiveness for such ancient misdeeds without some more meaningful act of contrition. An apology might be heartfelt and appreciated as such, but it doesn't exactly mean much if it stops there. Now, if this fellow went so far as to divest himself completely of his Western-sized fortune (which he must consider to be ill-gotten gains) and give it to the descendents of Sir John Hawkins victims . . . well, that would be worth some attention. But I that didn't happen, as as far as I know it has never happened.

So is this merely a bourgeous attempt to win a sense of moral superiority, or wash away a little bit of white guilt without forsaking our comfy lifestyles? It's about 95% that . . . but the guy did say one thing that caught my attention. The BBC reporter was dutifully grilling him on why such an apology would have any meaning, coming from someone like him after so long a time. He started to say, "I think it's really important that people have the chance to . . . " In my mind I was filling in the usual liberal-minded sentiment: "have their suffering acknowledged", or some such thing.

But then he finished the sentence: " . . . have the chance to forgive."

So he saw that the importance of the event was not that all those Africans receive his apology, nor that he receive their forgiveness. The transformative power, if there was any in this ritual, was that they had the chance to forgive. If they could, psychically speaking, release themselves from the burden of the sins committed to their people . . .now that might be something.


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