I recently discovered a feminist philosophy professor from LeMoyne College, Karmen MacKendrick, who has written about one of my favorite subjects—difference and sameness. The following is a selection in a review by Richard A. Lee, Jr. of one of her books:
The issue in Fragmentation and Memory is the question of the relation between unity or wholeness and difference or fragmentation. The argument could be put quite generally and abstractly: wherever there is a drive for unity or wholeness, there fragmentation will always and necessarily be found. More specifically, MacKendrick argues that it is fragmentation that is, in fact, primary and that the obsession one finds with unity and wholeness is, in fact, derivative of this primary fragmentation. The key to this is memory. In a sense, memory as always fragmented remembers this primary fragmentation.
“My dull brain is racked by things forgotten,” said Macbeth. Shakespeare knew that our memory was a house of cards, teetering on the bedrock of the unconsciousness. He knew that individuals like Macbeth…and I’m sure himself…were “weak links” who felt the seepage from that forbidden territory. And groups of individuals, even countries, can also experience this seepage also, as is the case currently with my country, the United States. We are demonstrating what can happen when a mouth piece for a country’s hidden ugliness appears on the scene, giving voice and action to its reptilian brain. For always, there is, “Only a tissue thin curtain in the brain (that) shuts out the coiled recumbent landlord.” (E. L. Mayo)
In the very early stages of our development, what will become a mature psyche begins to take shape in the depths of chaos, termed above as “primary fragmentation.” Mackendrick asserts that this memory, which our ego wants us to take as so sacrosanct, is actually “derivative” of this chaotic, fragmented stage of development. But Shakespeare realized, with the Macbeth character, that the “derivative roots” of memory are still there and influence tortured souls, as well as gifted souls who can sublimate the anguish of their “racked brain” into works of art, literature, and religion; this is naming but a few disciplines that can facilitate this redemptive sublimation.
The unconscious is always present. It is present in a subterranean “structure” that is always already underway when we born, providing a fabric of assumptions, premises, and even biases which provide a safe cocoon in which we can find our footing in the tribal culture into which we are born. The challenge comes in maturing enough to accept at some point the presence of these “subterranean” influences, a realization that strikes terror in most hearts who prefer living on the surface of life. To accept these influences is to encounter the feeling of being out of control as we embrace our mortality and fragility, devoid of the safety the cocoon provided in our youth. This is the existential predicament that comes with being a human being and emerging from the cocoon which would otherwise stifle our interior life. This is what Jesus had in mind when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”
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