Grief: Wrestling with time and embracing the strange enduring agency of the deceased Associate Professor Kym Maclaren, Ryerson University, Canada
Grief Project Lecture Series
In grief, time troubles us. We are confronted, again and again with the fact that we cannot turn back time, and do the past otherwise. We struggle with the question of how to keep a beloved with us, in the present and into the future, though their life is now past. We find ourselves living in a present that is alien from, somehow outside of, even shunned by, the happily oblivious present of most others. We often find that our own present and future have been emptied, become squalid, flat, devoid of promise and direction. Such struggles are, more fundamentally, ways of grappling with the ways in which the beloved deceased both is with us, and is gone, haunts us and eludes us. From the common-sense Western liberal perspective of what a self is, and how time works, these struggles may seem irrational, or based merely in a conflict between reality and our powerful wishes for reality to be otherwise.
But philosopher and phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty provides us with an account of selfhood, intersubjectivity, agency and time which affirms and elucidates these struggles as based in some of the most fundamental truths and paradoxes of the human condition. Kym proposes, following Merleau-Ponty, that in grief, we wrestle with time, and with a strange presence-absence of our deceased beloved because our beloved others are both independent, singular powers of initiative, lost in death, and perspectives and agents that have transgressed into our selves, our worlds, and material things, inhabiting them, and maintaining an enduring, if often overlooked, agency. Recognizing this may, Kym suggests, afford grief a more honored place in our world, and transform the struggles of grieving.
About the speaker
Kym Maclaren is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Ryerson University (currently being renamed), in Toronto, Canada. Her published work has focused primarily on the nature of social life, the affective, bodily, and social conditions of selfhood and individual development, and the social nature and transformative potential of emotion. She draws especially on the work of Merleau-Ponty, and tends to incorporate literature from developmental psychology, studies of psychopathology, evolutionary theory, and social thought. In addition to articles in these areas, she has co-edited, with David Morris, Time, Memory, Institution: Merleau-Ponty’s New Ontology of Self (Ohio University Press, 2015), and edited a collection of essays entitled Intimacy and Embodiment: Phenomenological Perspectives