FORGET

Forget the suffering
You caused others.
Forget the suffering
Others caused you.
The waters run and run,
Springs sparkle and are done,
You walk the earth you are forgetting.

Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
A childlike sun grows warm.
A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
You are led by the hand once again.

The names of the rivers remain with you.
How endless those rivers seem!
Your fields lie fallow,
The city towers are not as they were.
You stand at the threshold mute.

– Czesław Miłosz (translated by Jessica Fisher and Bożena Gilewska)

MEMORY PALACE

Memory notably, which I did not think myself entitled to draw upon, will have its word to say, if necessary. This represents at least a thousand words I was not counting on. I may well be glad of them.

– Beckett, The Unnamable

In the palace is a room facing northeast where nine of your friends sit every evening, drinking coffee and eating cherry cobbler, making proclamations on their finances and investments. Two are particularly vocal, arguing over details of the confidentiality agreements they have signed and using the term folks a lot. One has never once opened his mouth in these discussions; another has not spoken in over two years; and still another is deaf, a fact that nearly all the others have chosen to ignore.

You remain in the next room with headphones on, listening to the discussions translated into Polish by a woman with a thick, flinty voice. Every other sentence, she interjects the phrases jestem ruina or jesteś ruina. Even though the translator often sounds offended, you find her voice comforting as the talk gets more detailed.

While you struggle to memorize what your friends say, on a screen in front of you flash updates of their recent personal marathon, weight training, and cycling statistics; various articles on fracking, central banks, the pope, and the Affordable Care Act; videos of 90s hip-hop and straight-edge hardcore songs; tweets from @anarchiv_ebooks; and the lines this email highlights all the things that make you an amazing mancapital gains on volatility, whoa that’s weird, and we all know what good and evil are.

After your requisite two hours of sleep per night, you transcribe their discussions from memory back into English, which you then email to each source for verification. Although you are just in the next room, facing west, the verification never comes, no replies are ever granted.

These emails are printed then, and they are stored in the teak wood chest your father bought at auction in Zoar, the lid of which is emblazoned with Digital Heritage (Dusty Archive). The chest remains in the basement of the palace, next to the sofa where your parents often sit quietly noting down questions to ask you.

You only ever access these transcripts to verify how many times gold was mentioned the previous week, as most of the important lines you can recall at will.

Upon your request, or every two months or so, your mother opens up the chest, binds together stacks of the printed emails with twine, and drops them off in an empty gravel lot by a church to be recycled.

LITTLE FORGETTING AND THE VZPOMÍNKY

The title of Pavlína Zemanová collection of illustrations is a perfect example of what Poles mean when they say Czech sounds childish to them, as if the language is automatically all diminutives. In the New English File Upper-Intermediate course book, which I used plenty of while teaching English here in Kraków (it’s a classic of the trade), there was a listening exercise based around the 2002 floods in Prague. A snippet of a radio broadcast was used, and as the broadcaster began speaking Czech the students would start giggling confusedly, often unable to locate the Slavic tongue while giggling at what sounded like a Polish riddled with diminutives.

Vzpomínky (“Memories“) isn’t that far from the Polish wspomnienia, but that –ínky can make a difference when examining the technique used here. What are we dealing with between the title and these drawings, could they really be portrayals of little memories that factor in this slight mistranslation? Would this littleness signify just smallness, or immateriality, or even triviality? There is a sentimentality possible as well, as in, “hold on to your dear, little, tender memories, they’re all you’ve got,” but this is a patronizing, saccharine approach that should surely be avoided.

Leaving the misreading of the title aside – as well as a potential political reading, as the photo manipulation in Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting immediately springs to mind – it is most useful to look at the space in these drawings and make a quick skip (whether graceful or jerky, I known not) from memory to forgetting. Is the positive space in Zemanová’s drawings the mnemonic and the negative space the forgetting, is it that simple? It is the negative space that remains most powerful, after all, interminably undefinable, but not so opaque that we cannot search for the little forgetting under the surface.

Little forgetting, minor, insignificant forgetting, trivial, even – how to identify this, attach some specific objects to it? Isn’t sifting through whatever substance there may be of the negative space – the space of the little forgetting – just the same as dredging up some quickly flickering memories, searching actively from a desire to produce recollection, to record it textually or in someone’s ear? But what really is produced and recorded, what happens in the negative space? If we think of negative space instead in terms of mandates, little forgetting becomes a series of desires to forget, and these desires may at least be outlined, regardless of the degree of longing or supposed trauma involved, and regardless of the visual (or, in this case, textual) finality.

Forget the ones around no less than those who have left. Forget the cat that can see you through the window. Forget waking up to two men in your room on the other side of the river, near Vítězná at dawn, as they grabbed your wallet and ran. Forget that lump in your throat, that baseball in her stomach. Forget what it is like in the other country. Forget the products you work for, who buys them and what they do. Forget picking strawberries with him. Forget her graham-cracker cake with the coffee icing. Forget that undrinkable śliwowica. Forget that meathead cabby chasing you down Dlouhá with a billy-club, you tripping on the cobblestones in your orange Saucony sneakers, him trying to pull you into his taxi to throw you in the river. Forget the dances to Parno Graszt. Forget riding with a bunch of vodka-reeking soldiers in the dining car on the night train from Poznań. Forget your outrage fatigue. Forget reading three-fourths of A Short History of Decay. Forget your hand shaking and the absinthe dribbling fire on the bar your first time there with A. Forget eating too much fried cheese with Gambrinus. Forget P cycling from Amsterdam to your place in the fourth district, his stories of singing to himself, him dropping his camera in the Vltava. Forget your anxiety over being cursed in front of the Hlavní Nádraží. Forget the “super central location” and that wonderfully hot shower. Forget listening to some psych-rock radio station while trying without success to make a decent spaghetti sauce. Forget N with a bottle of Cisowianka on a train from Warszawa Centralna. Forget seeing the early morning moon sinister over the city on the train from Nyugati Pályaudvar. Forget hightailing it to Vyskočilova to stay at the engineer’s, how he spoke no English and made you weak tea, or at the old lady’s who spoke French and had barely any hot water. Forget the relief you felt each time you left.

LETHES I

Your memory moves from I to we and back again less than, in the end, making the I a we. These are the pronouns at work, non-oppositional, non-collective, as forgetting remains an individual pursuit to the end, but only individual as such pursuit, dissolving as it does into a collective forgetting far, far beyond the frameworks and bounds of collective memory. You see the cat creeping in the sun, you remember it a minute later wondering if it is still there or who else saw it or if anyone saw you watching it, and you forget it all, returning the remembrance to its right space between no one and everyone.

Image

Using your memory for exformation admits your memory is exformation, superfluous, especially as discarded points and floating context, all taken for granted, exformation rests before forgetting, less powerful than forgetting while possibly superior to it as memory forgotten and remembered again though not recognized, never spoken or fully exhumed, never less than idealized and thus, in communication, often nothing more than mistaken.

Your memory writes when it is able to tear away from reading other people, a break that can be a few seconds or minutes even, until it complains against the deep breath of your forgetting, and moves back to the shallows of others’ language.

Then your memory is the tragedy, and your forgetting lines the inverse of that tragedy which is not quite a joke but a device of relief touched off by mouthing tragedia, a word so common in a language so Slavic spurred from a historicism so solemn, monumentalistic, and internalized that when let loose in antiquarian catalogs of pedestrian exclamations here and there, a few mornings a week, it comes to describe the interminable traffic jam, cold chicken soup on Sundays, daily queue cuts and shoulder knocking, and that courtyard entrance with florescent lit concrete so migraine-heavy that the Żołądkowa bottles punctuating its Saturday morning rank seem entirely natural as empty ciphers, tragedia – or even better, masakra – in a language flinging far its own forgetting.

Your forgetting is a valence that exists in double, one side limping with split shins down to the reservoir, cold and clear on a day you think must be for mourning but should in fact just be for a long span of silence, and the other side lurking in the hills where it reserves its own absence in advance around a fire encircled by a small, stout wall built of all your letters, emails, diaries, journals, phones, laptops, essays, book reports, birthday cards, tablets, notebooks, inscriptions, every document you have ever signed, all the margins you have ever annotated, one by one encased in thick layers of pink wax, balanced behind a gigantic pile of apples you have just picked that are, indeed, ready to be burned.