Who: Nicolas de Warren, Department of Philosophy, Wellesley College
What: Dean’s Lecture Series
Title: Monnica’s Tears: Mourning and Conversion in Augustine’s Confessions
Where: Great Hall, Peterson Student Center, St. John’s College
When: Friday, February 6, 8 p.m.
Details: This lecture is free of charge, open to the public, and followed by a question and answer period.
The nine autobiographical books of Augustine’s Confessions ends the drama of his conversion with the death of his mother, Monnica, the sweetness of tears and the beseeching of forgiveness. In this lecture de Warren argues that the trajectory of Augustine’s conversion, from his first conversion to philosophy (reason) to his penultimate conversion to Christianity (faith), is marked by two contrasting experiences of death and mourning: the death of the unnamed friend and the death of Monnica.
The death of the unnamed friend provokes a crisis within Augustine’s own sense of being, but at the cost of mourning over the loss of his friend as if Augustine himself, or a part of himself, had perished. Augustine cries for himself at the loss of the Other, then reproaches his crying as not only an expression of self-pity and narcissism, but as a failure to grasp the Other in the gift of death. The experience of the Other’s death is inseparable from Augustine’s anxiety over his own finitude and attachment to the world. The unnamed friend must necessarily remain unnamed in this sense: in crying for myself in the name of the Other, I only cry for myself, but not for the Other. This failure to mourn knowingly manifests Augustine’s inability to grasp the truth of Christianity: God’s love as the gift of death. In contrast, in the presence of Monnica’s death, Augustine withholds his tears, but only to transform his earlier experience of mourning into a genuine mourning as the recognition and embrace of death--death to the world--as the gift of love.