Since the mid-twentieth century, Western societies have seen an unprecedented increase in movements, demands, and policies in favor of reparations. The historical catastrophes that shook the last century are both the immediate origin of this groundswell and its founding paradigm. The Reparable and the Irreparable: Being Human in the Age of Vulnerability places reparation within a wider contemporary context and describes it in its full anthropological depth. Repair is a global phenomenon that does not present itself in a unified way. Ideas of repair and reparation are expressed at different levels; for instance, one can mend a damaged object, heal a wound, redress an injury, or make amends for an offence. Johann Michel explores how repair and reparation tell us about human beings’ (natural) vulnerability, our (moral) fallibility, and our (social) incompleteness, but also about the many capabilities we draw upon to mitigate these shortcomings. It is from the heart of human finitude that repair and reparation draw meaning, and the irreparable—whether due to time or to a debt that can never be repaid—haunt any policy of reparation. Such are the challenges to be addressed by a philosophy of repair and reparation constructed in renewed dialogue with the social sciences.
Johann Michel is professor of hermeneutics and social theory at the University of Poitiers.
Chapter 1: This Vulnerable Flesh
Chapter 2: The Fragmented Mind
Chapter 3: Fault and Offense
Chapter 4: The Measurement of Harm
Chapter 5: History in Debt
Johann Michel’s The Reparable and the Irreparable offers incisive insight for the vital contemporary discussion of reparations. The book broadens and deepens discussion through a mode of analogy that compares and contrasts social and political reparation to other dimensions of repair, including biological, psychological, sociological, moral, religious, and legal forms. The text is unsparing in describing the limits of repair, in both the irreparable – injury that cannot be undone – and what it calls the a-reparable – injury that is irreducible to quantitative, especially monetary, calculation. The book offers a significant anthropological examination of the human condition in the context of repair in which readers benefit from how the author draws upon diverse fields that are astutely illuminated by his distinctive perspective as both a social philosopher and social scientist.
The Reparable and the Irreparable is vital reading for the present time. How do we respond to the multiple experiences of damage, degradation and loss that permeate our lives? Johann Michel shows that the work of repair is an essential feature of the human condition that cuts across the natural, mental, legal and socio-political aspects of life. If we are constantly engaged in the work of mending and making amends, how might these different registers of repair shed light on one another and enhance our efforts? How also might they inform our understanding of the limits of repair and the challenge of the irreparable? The question of the irreparable, which Michel poses with fresh insight, matters now more than ever.
Based on a philosophical approach, the book offers a brilliant panorama, both precise and synthetic, of the meanings that can be given to the notion of "reparation" in different fields (psychology, biology, law, philosophy especially). It thus offers a unique way for thinking transversally about the possibilities and limits of repairability, and should therefore be of interest to specialists in many disciplines.