What are the key elements of this ongoing project I’m calling Invitation and Repair? And of what I have called The Year of Repair? I’ll proceed by summarizing but also linking to posts and tags in which I have explored these matters more fully.
First of all, I&R is an account of cultural renewal that also strives to articulate a theology of culture. (This articulation will be done in a digressive and improvisatory way, a way that tries to be open to unexpected transmissions, that leans into the possibility of stochastic resonance.)
Second: Michael Oakeshott has said that a culture is, among other things, “a manifold of invitations to look, to listen, and reflect.” This is profoundly true, and it’s important that he said it in a lecture about the character of the university. The American university today is impatient with looking, listening, and reflecting, and instead wants to move immediately to (a) the bureaucratic implementation of some half-baked notion of Justice, or (b) the translation of scientific inquiry into monetizable Product, or (c) the enabling of the fulfillment, according to the logic of metaphysical capitalism, of any given Self. What’s needed, for culture to be renewed, is a turn away from the trinity of Justice, Product, and Self and a return to the holier trinity of looking, listening, and reflecting. It is to these activities that I wish to invite people.
Third: A useful means of promoting this invitation is to suggest that one’s attention might profitably be redirected from the exigencies of the present moment to the rich variety of the past: that we might initiate our project of looking, listening, and reflecting by “breaking bread with the dead.”
Fourth: One of the ways to break bread with the dead — and even to break bread with those who are still around but just older — begins with resisting the temptation to discard and replace. The idea that replacement is better than repair is endemic not just to our economic order but to our entire social order. (People discard and replace friend, spouses — hell, people discard their old selves and replace them with shiny new ones, or simulacra thereof. That’s the hard heart and impoverished soul of metaphysical capitalism.)
So let’s start here, with something basic and self-helpy:
When you can manage it, hit the pause button: look, listen, and reflect.
And when you can’t manage it, when you are positively itching to do something, look for something to fix:
- An old guitar that just needs cleaning and restringing;
- A pair of rusty garden shears (growing things in general — gardens, lawns, houseplants — yield wonderful opportunities for fixing and fixing up);
- A shirt that needs buttons resewn;
- A personal website that has gotten weedy with buggy code and dead links;
- A friendship that (as Samuel Johnson puts it) has fallen into disrepair;
- A favorite book that needs the particular kind of repair that we call attention.
This year I want to repair something every day, even if it’s something insignificant, and even if the repair is just a bit of cleaning. I want each night to be able to say: Today, instead of acquiring something new, I took something already known to me and made it a little better.