There exists an art of memory – Ars Memoriae – dating back to the ancient Greeks, which is comprised of a set of techniques – Mnemotechnics – designed to aid the memory and inspire reflection on the importance thereof.
If there is an art of memory, can there be an art of forgetting – Ars Oblivionis? And if there are memory techniques, can there be a set of techniques for forgetting – Lethotechnics? What would one such technique look like – a Lethotechnic, this Lethatechnique?
Letha, from the Greek mythological Lethe, one of the five rivers of Hades. Drinking from this river triggers forgetfulness, motivates concealment, touches off oblivion, and induces sleep. Ars Oblivionis begins with a Lethatechnique, a wading into this river.
But Ars Oblivionis must also begin with a series of questions, ones that reflect all that fails to be remembered. For while it is clear what a Mnemotechnic may require (in the Method of Loci, the Major System, etc.), it is not at all clear how a Lethatechnique may even function.
When we understand but struggle to record how, for every thing done something else is not, for every thing remembered something else is forgotten, we realize that what is not here may be more interesting than what is. And we are left with the question, has this which is not here been remembered, or forgotten?
What would an art of forgetting entail? Can we only define this out of (or against) the art of memory?
What must be forgotten parallel to each mnemonic strategy? How does each recollection utilize an inverse in forgetting?
Is forgetting only something misremembered, disremembered? Does forgetting in fact collect only that which may eventually be identified, recorded, and thus recovered?
Can forgetting even be documented in the first place? Can it be observed except from the largest of distances?
Does the art of forgetting incorporate all that is forgotten alongside each memory, or does it filter selectively, in the end asking you to pay more attention to key elements that are absent, rather than all that is present?
How does the art of forgetting reconcile the mandate to “never forget”? And how does it identify the crucial opportunities and beneficial goals of forgetting that may exist?
Is it a practice elevated through avoiding the accidental and resolving the conflicting characteristics of forgetting? What are its daily and grander roles, objects in sight, processes of becoming, and methods of accumulation?
To write the presence of absence; the flip-side, inverse, and eater of memory; that which is not just the opposite of memory but which can barely be defined on its own – is this possible? To name something near unnameable, to understand a part and name the whole of the vacancy – is that possible?
Such questions are responses to the thinking of various writers who have motivated my interest in these topics, such as Alexander Luria (who coined the term “lethotechnics”), Harald Weinrich (in Lethe: the Art and Critique of Forgetting), Paul Ricouer (who refers to a “lethatechnique,” via Weinrich, in Memory, History, Forgetting), Umberto Eco (in “An Ars Oblivionalis? Forget It!”), Nietzsche (from whom my interest in forgetting stemmed), and W.G. Sebald and Czesław Miłosz (from whom my interest in memory stemmed), amongst many others.
This blog attempts to address the questions above as well as to connect these writers’ thinking on forgetting to various personal realms. Lethatechnique is a pursuit of a near-impossible ethics of forgetting, an exploration of what comes before and after the tragedy of forgetting, an acknowledgement of failure wherein forgetting is held to be anything but, and an investigation of the potential (and lack thereof) for a happy forgetting.