No bookkeeper is as false and fraudulent as collective memory. It’s best to be forgotten.
Kosiński’s view here is far from an anomaly and is probably more popular than we suspect. Whether it is collective memory considered as concept, tool of power, field of discourse, or social frameworks of memory competing against each other (e.g., right after Margaret Thatcher’s death), such conflicts in the name of Truth are encountered from the get-go. But even though seeming falsity and fraud can have imperative functions in mnemonic processes as junctures, pivots, and schisms between any supposed narrative totality, collective response, and individual variant, it’s difficult to equate what is false and fraudulent with forgetting. That is, except where forgetting may signify some kind of relief from and alleviation of falsity and fraudulence, which might very well have been implicit in the author’s declaration here.
For Kosiński’s statement determines forgetting as a positive, an alternative, a silencing of the logorrhea of memory, something truer and more honest – not to mention less controversial – than attempts to recount, critique, and take stock in anything nearing a tidy, united, “collective” sense. To be forgotten, to be the object of substantive acts of forgetting, is the best thing that can happen when the individual is confronted with a collective appraisal. Does this qualification, then, lend itself to an ethics of forgetting? If being forgotten is best, what are the benefits, and can these be identified not only for individual desire but collective acknowledgement? And do these benefits exist only before the inevitability of all total forgetting, or can they somehow exist successfully beyond it – as in, does the acceleration of forgetting through will, desire, or other means (e.g., technological) come to better grips with (or even fool or evade) ultimate oblivion somehow? (This last point could be approached in terms of emptiness, cosmic jokes, eternal recurrence, a “stupid metaphysical question” – there are a million spin-off points here.)
Kosiński’s personal history should be considered in light of his statement. The author had Jewish-Polish roots, and thus had two heavy, interweaving collective mnemonic traditions behind him. His pursuit of emigration (i.e., self-imposed exile), his eventual scandals – his use of forgeries to immigrate from communist Poland, his skirting the line between autobiography and fiction in The Painted Bird before that blur was quite popular in literary debate, his being accused of plagiarism and of having certain books ghost-written – and his suicide all locate him on the side of certain active dynamics – meaning, conscious and/or manipulative acts – of forgetting.
If Kosiński was indeed pro-forgetting in certain respects, did he qualify it as an ethical stance? It is obviously impossible to say, and I do not know enough about the author and man to even attempt a vague assessment. This may shed some light, however – and it is a sad light, to be sure – from D.G. Myers’ review of Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography by James Park Sloan:
This theory explains much: the reckless driving, the abuse of small dogs, the thirst for fame, the fabrication of personal experience, the secretiveness about how he wrote, the denial of his Jewish identity. “There was a hollow space at the center of Kosinski that had resulted from denying his past,” Sloan writes, “and his whole life had become a race to fill in that hollow space before it caused him to implode, collapsing inward upon himself like a burnt-out star.” On this theory, Kosinski emerges as a classic borderline personality, frantically defending himself against… all-out psychosis.
The more general question must be asked, how difficult is it to consider a pro-forgetting stance ethical? And would such a stance place one opposite or parallel to an ethics of memory? For while memory and forgetting are indeed dialectical, it is also possible to envision them as kinds of clouds or ether, and to see forgetting as larger than memory – forgetting as encompassing memory, not the other way around, due to its sheer inevitability as it envelops physical decay and conscious oblivion. Could that mean that somehow an ethics of memory can only stem from an ethics of forgetting?
What do you think, do you agree with Kosiński, is it best to be forgotten? Or is this an inane question, when knowledge of inevitable forgetting and forgottenness strike a balance we continually negotiate with a life-long search for presence?