Tag Archives: Forgetting

TOUCHES OF SOLITUDE

One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon’s younger brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. And I realized then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since: “I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor.” Sometimes I would mention this amazement, but since no one seemed to share it, not even to understand it (life consists of these little touches of solitude), I forgot about it.

– Barthes, Camera Lucida

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TO FORGET IS ESSENTIAL TO SPEECH

Forgetting: non-presence, non-absence.

To open to forgetting as accord with what hides. Forgetting, with each event forgotten, is the event of forgetting. To forget a word is to encounter the possibility that all speech could be forgotten, to remain close to all speech as though it  were forgotten, and close also to forgetting as speech. Forgetting causes language to rise up in its entirety by gathering it around the forgotten word.

In forgetting there is what turns away from us and there is the detour that comes from forgetting itself. There is a relation between the detour of speech and the detour of forgetting. From this it follows that, even saying the thing forgotten, speech does not fail forgetting but speaks on its behalf. The movement of forgetting.

When we are missing a forgotten word it still indicates itself through this lack; we have the word as something forgotten, and thus reaffirm it in the absence it seemed made to fill and whose place it seemed made to dissimulate. We seize in the word forgotten the space out of which it speaks, and that now refers us back to its silent, unavailable, interdicted and still latent meaning.

In forgetting a word, we sense that the capacity to forget is essential to speech. We speak because we have the power to forget, and all speech that works in a utilitarian manner against forgetting (all speech of recall, encyclopedic knowledge) runs the risk – risk nonetheless necessary – of rendering speech less telling.

Speech ought therefore never forget its secret relation to forgetting; which means that it ought to forget more profoundly, hold itself, in forgetting, in relation to the sliding that belongs to forgetfulness.

Maurice Blanchot, from The Infinite Conversation

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24 HOURS OF OBLIVION XVII

Any TV anchor who interviews Trump needs to print this out and commit it to memory.

TV in loving memory: Rasheed Hassan Khan devoted life to rights of peasants.

Water has memory. Ganga is carrying impressions, feelings, memories . . . She is a living entity. Rivers have rights.

One of the most brutal knockouts in recent memory. Let’s have no more of these daft catchweight fights!

Make me an option, and I’ll make you a memory.

New 5.5 Comfort 3” Twin Memory Foam Mattress Topper.

Time to sleep . . . (cue marching band, mother’s disapproving voice, and the memory of women who never wanted you).

Looks like the house of memory here.

Funny how the hours stretch, melt away my empathy. Persistence of a memory.

That’s just how I was brought up. Your girl should never touch a door or walk in a room behind you. It’s muscle memory now.

In loving memory of Johnny Depp. He ain’t dead, I just love remembering him.

Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.

Good luck getting the memory of people laughing at you dislodged from your brain.

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NOT LIKE A TERMINUS

There is never a single approach to something remembered. The remembered is not like a terminus at the end of a line. Numerous approaches or stimuli converge upon it and lead to it. Words, comparisons, signs need to create a context for a printed photograph in a comparable way: that is to say, they must mark and leave open diverse approaches. A radial system has to be constructed around the photograph so that it may be seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday, and historic.

– John Berger, from “Uses of Photographs”

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WHY SHOULD YOU?

Memory’s a funny thing, isn’t it. You don’t agree? I don’t agree either. Memory has never amused me much, and I find its tricks more and more wearisome as I grow older. Perhaps memory simply stays the same but has less work to do as the days fill out. My memory’s in good shape, I think. It’s just that my life is getting less memorable all the time. Can you remember where you left those keys? Why should you? Lying in the tub some slow afternoon, can you remember if you’ve washed your toes? (Taking a leak is boring, isn’t it, after the first few thousand times? Whew, isn’t that a drag?) I can’t remember half the stuff I do any more. But then I don’t much want to.

– Martin Amis, Money

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24 HOURS OF OBLIVION XVI

Did y’all forget that this happened last time the boys were on a yacht?

I remember forgetting to write 2005 on my math book in school. Where did the years go?

2043: five great sci-fi novels to make you forget Star Wars.

We can’t forget about the senior pets who need a lifeline more than ever at shelters.

Forget nice dinner reservations, let’s go on an adventure.

Don’t forget that a new year doesn’t guarantee a new you. Growth won’t be any easier this year. We still need grace and grind!

Gen Sharif reportedly said in DC that normalizing relations with India would mean forgetting Kashmir, which he won’t do.

Our polite maknae, not forgetting to bow after the end of the performance.

Data scientists keep forgetting the one rule every researcher should know by heart.

I became middle-class without forgetting that once I’d been poor. Shameful, I know.

Finding oneself nostalgic for Badiou?

It’s like I’m starting YouTube for the first time, OMG so nostalgic and weird.

Elliott Smith Pandora is making me all kinds of nostalgic heading into the New Year.

Pure nostalgic beauty wrapped around the modern power of a high output twin cam 103B engine.

How did nostalgic literature become an agent in American racism?

Why do these snooty, homogeneous, class-obsessed white dudes nostalgic for a dead empire have British accents?

What kind of nostalgic moment is this!

Feeling nostalgic today. Wondering about the “what ifs.”

Does anyone ever listen to music and feel nostalgic? Not because you’ve heard it before, more like your blood remembers?

Been missing that nostalgic feeling that ’90s fashion had? It’s back!

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TO PRODUCE THE NEW

Anamnesis means remembrance or reminiscence, the collection and recollection of what has been lost, forgotten, or effaced. It is therefore a matter of the very old, of what has made us who we are. But anamnesis is also a work that transforms its subject, always producing something new. To recollect the old, to produce the new: that is the task of Anamnesis.

– from The Speculative Turn (re.press)

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A CONVERSATION WITH SVETLANA BOYM

LT: “How does exile or migration affect the use of memory?”

SB: “Exile is both about suffering in banishment and springing into a new life. The leap is also a gap, often an unbridgeable one; it reveals an incommensurability of what is lost and what is found.”

“Does this gap at all parallel the one between hope and desolation, homeland and new land, memory and forgetting, fiction and non-fiction?”

“Only a few manage to turn exile into an enabling fiction.”

“And how different is that enabling fiction from the one it takes to get up in the morning, to try and do anything at all? I guess I am speaking of a collective memory of inherent exile, the metaphoric exile.”

“The main feature of exile is a double conscience, a double exposure of different times and spaces, a constant bifurcation. Exiles and bilinguals were always treated with suspicion and described as people with a ‘double destiny’ or half a destiny, as well as adulterers, traitors, traders in lost souls, ghosts.”

“A double-conscience, sure. One remembers what one wishes to forget, and vice versa. Memories as specters, forgetting as beyond spectral. It is as if the exile must narrate the other half of that conscience into the future, must write out that bifurcation, that betrayal, those ghosts.”

“For a writer banished from his or her homeland, exile is never merely a theme or a metaphor; usually physical uprooting and displacement into a different cultural context challenges the conceptions of art itself as well as the forms of authorship. In other words, the experience of actual exile offers an ultimate test to the writer’s metaphors; instead of the poetics of exile, one should speak of the art of survival.”

“Does this art of survival drive exilic narration and writing, or is it the other way around?”

“All immigrants know that exile is much more attractive as a poetic image than it is as a lived experience. It looks better on paper than it does in life.”

“Of course it is easier to record migrant memory than migrant forgetting, even though forgetting may be less painful and, at a certain level, more desirable and even necessary. The danger is when memory automatically imposes an alienated status on the migrant. What role does forgetting play in this exilic art of survival?”

“Instead of curing alienation – which is what the imagined community of the nation proposes – exiled artists use alienation as a personal antibiotic against homesickness.”

“So, the migrant must potentially forget the national origin, the home country, shift around memories of nationalism in favor of a different imagined community that may more easily embrace and utilize forgetting? What about the language?”

“Bilingual consciousness is not a sum of two languages, but a different state of mind altogether; often the bilingual writers reflect on the foreignness of all language and harbor a strange belief in a ‘pure language,’ free from exilic permutations.”

“But isn’t language innately riddled with ambiguity, possibility, and progress through misuse and mutation, no matter if exilic bifurcation is involved or not? Language continuously wedges itself into the dialectic of memory and forgetting. So isn’t it that a pure language could only be one that can express memory and forgetting simultaneously?”

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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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TWO CENTERS – ON MEMORY & EXILE IN CZESŁAW MIŁOSZ’S ESSAYS IV: DESPAIR

Despair, inseparable from the first stage of exile, can be analyzed, and then it would probably appear as resulting more from one’s personal shortcomings than from external circumstances.

– Miłosz, “Notes on Exile”

To maintain a conception of the past in “a sharply delineated, precise form” was a kind of privilege for Miłosz. As he describes in “The Nobel Lecture,” as memory became a “force” in the creative and social struggles of writers in post-war Central and Eastern Europe, it served to protect “us against a speech entwining upon itself like the ivy when it does not find a support on a tree or a wall.” It follows that the more a regime attempted to repress the writer who then proceeds to forcefully connect literature, memory, and reality lived in exile, the more the writer, as Miłosz explains in “Notes on Exile,” “blurts out his dammed-up feelings of anger, his observations and reflections, considering this as his duty and mission.”

Of course, the writer also enters a host of new problems in exile, not least of which is a consequence of destierro and destiempo (i.e., Józef  Wittlin’s concepts of temporal and spatial displacement, as explored in the second part of this essay series) in that “knowledge of everyday life in the country of his origin changes from the tangible to theoretical.” The tangible may remain in memory, but it is pinned to a certain stasis, almost fossilized. Through acts of memory-work, a dynamic element can be injected into the spatial determinants of the memory, and social frameworks can be pursued towards deeper and more oblique references. Theoretical abstraction may result due to the unavoidable distance of real exile, but this result conflicts with the atmosphere of Miłosz’s adopted country of the United States, in which, as he explains in “On Censorship”: “Bluntness, brevity, and brutality of expression, as well as simplified ideas, are prized because they can be conveyed by the most obvious and tangible ‘facts’ without involving any complicated reasoning.”

Accordingly, the other half of the “Paradigm” Miłosz constructs in “Notes on Exile” involves the understanding that, “Now where he lives he is free to speak but nobody listens and, moreover, he forgot what he had to say.” Coming up against the many obstacles of exile, which ultimately force energy inwards towards the theoretical, the exiled writer must not only battle the threat of his own forgetting, but also the willed (even violent) forgetting born of the disinterest and disinheritance that Miłosz saw plaguing the United States and the West. For in the exile’s experience, “that which in his country is regarded with seriousness as a matter of life or death is of nobody’s concern abroad or provokes interest for incidental reasons.”

These experiences lead the exiled writer to several modes of despair, all of which are based in relations with the writer’s native land and the collective, and of which there are three main causes: “loss of name, fear of failure, and moral torment.” Loss of name again reflects a perspective Wittlin outlines in “Sorrow and Grandeur of Exile”: “The fact that not only our ambition but our creativity itself has in exile no wide field of radiation and must give up the aura in the past surrounding our names may be favorable for our work, but more often it hampers us.”

As Miłosz explains in “Notes on Exile,” this despair over loss of name is only one of many results of displacement from a specific community, where a “writer acquires a name through a complex interchange with his readers, whether he appeals to a large audience or to a narrow circle of sympathizers.” The soft borders that delineate his professional and institutional relationships have now shifted into a painful anonymity. For according to Svetlana Boym in The Future of Nostalgia, such writers in exile “carry the memory of oppression but also of their social significance that they could hardly match in the more ‘developed’ West.” Alleviation of the weight of such memories is achieved partially for the exile through the view that such fresh humiliations are “proportionate to his pride, and that is perhaps a just punishment,” thus reflecting again Miłosz’s mandate that exile accepted as a destiny necessitates the debasement of self-delusions. Indeed, engaging in personal memory-work along social and religious frameworks, there is quite a bit of exploration of pride in Miłosz’s essays. In “Saligia,” for example, he examines writerly pride and literary background in parallel to a concern over moral torment as regards name, and states, “I had enough superbia in me for it to carry me beyond nay mere authorship.” Further exploration of this concern for loss of name will be featured in the next essay in this series.

Previous essays in the “Two Centers – on Memory & Exile in Czesław Miłosz’s Essays” series:

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