ANCILLA OBLIVIONIS

Pierre Bertrand has written a book on forgetting in which he discusses in detail Freud’s art of forgetting. He asks what actually happens, according to Freud, after the moment of the cure. Must the cured patient (if he is cured) permanently retain in his consciousness the forgotten event that has been revived? Or does such an activation of consciousness, if continued for a long time, ultimately produce other kinds of psychic damage that can be healed only if the cured patient is also able to definitively forget what he has, with the help of the therapist, so happily dealt with? Hence Pierre Bertrand distinguishes a negative or bad kind of forgetting from a positive or good one. Adhering somewhat more closely to Freud’s judicial metaphorics, I should prefer to call these “unpacified” forgetting and “pacified” forgetting. The former is forgetting before psycholnalytic treatment; the latter is forgetting after it. If this conception is correct, and it seems to me to be implicit in Freudian theory, then Freud’s art of forgetting is essentially based on this distinction between an unpacified forgetting and a pacified forgetting as well as on the far-reaching recognition that there is no direct path, involving for instance mere weakening of the imagines agentes, that leads from unpacified forgetting to pacified forgetting. The detour by way of consciousness cannot be avoided, whence a certain paradox in the Freudian art of forgetting: if this detour is to be successfully gotten through, the art of memory must be relied on, so that the latter turns out to be an auxiliary to the art of forgetting (ancilla oblivionis).

– Harald Weinrich, Lethe: the Art and Critique of Forgetting

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