remorse-detectingremorsepaper.doc

First it will help to identify a few important

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First, it will help to identify a few important similarities. As Erving Goffman has pointed out in his -10-
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now classic essay on remedial exchanges, both expressions of apology and remorse can be viewed as communications that can reestablish relations between a person who offends and a person who otherwise might remain offended. The apology and the expression of remorse both entail a splitting of the self into a part that has offended and a part that agrees that the offending act was morally unacceptable(Goffman, 1972, 113-118.) This joining with the other in mutual rejection of the offending act helps to re-establish the offending party as a member of a common moral community- to use a phrase taken from Nicholas Tavuchis’ more recent work on the sociology of the apology(Tavuchis, 1991, 7-8.) Likewise, both the apology and the expression of remorse -from the offender who has transgressed to the victim who forgives- can lead to reconciliation, thereby restoring what would otherwise remain a ruptured relationship. For purposes of this analysis, however, the differences -11-
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are even more important than the similarities. Most fundamentally, remorse is iconic where apology is discursive. The apology may refer to the anguish and pain that the offender feels as a result of transgressing the norms of community, but, in remorse, the offender shows or expresses this pain by making the suffering visible. Conventional usage in law and psychiatry describes expressions of remorse as ‘signs’ or ‘symptoms’ or ‘manifestations’ or ‘demonstrations’ - what this suggests is that the means by which remorse is communicated is through gestures, displays of affect and other paralinguistic devices. Both the apology and the expression of remorse can be communicated through simply linguistic formulae such as “I am sorry” but with the former we are likely to attend to the words- with the latter, we focus on how the words are expressed, the feelings that accompany the words. This iconic or representational quality of remorse is allied with another element that further demarcates its -12-
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expression from that of the apology. While a full review of the varied and often conflicting meanings of remorse would require an analysis of its place in legal, theological, and psychiatric discourse as well as popular discourse, what permeates all of these linguistic terrains is the perception that feelings of remorse are painful- that they are unwanted and that they are involuntary. One is afflicted, burdened, or cursed with feelings of remorse- whether this pain or its absence is pathologized in psychiatry or valorized in legal and popular discourse as the outward display of conscience. 8 That demonstrations of remorse are often described as ‘breaking down,’ ‘losing control’ or as symptoms of emotional collapse fits well with its perceived involuntary character.
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