Transformation, creativity, and philosophical liberation all may involve relinquishing memory.
While many people try brain games, exercise, and food supplements in hopes of preventing memory loss, MacArthur fellow Hyde (Creative Writing/Kenyon Coll.; Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership, 2010, etc.) inquires into the power of forgetting. Declaring himself “weary of argument, tired of striving for mastery, of marshaling the evidence, of drilling down to bedrock to anchor every claim, of inventing transitions to mask the jumpiness of my mind,” he instead gives free rein to that inspired jumpiness by juxtaposing anecdotes, stories, meditations, and aphorisms about the meaning of forgetfulness. Illustrated with artwork from an imaginary Museum of Forgetting, the author’s collage of entries comes from a rich trove of philosophy, mythology, ancient and modern literature, religion, psychology, art, and history as well as his own life, including witnessing his mother’s dementia. Forgetting, he discovers, does not necessarily imply loss. For Emerson, “self-forgetting” was essential for personal self-renewal and cultural reinvention. Philologist Ernest Renan believed that collective amnesia contributed to “the essence of a nation.” Robert E. Lee advised his contemporaries “to obliterate the marks of civil strife and commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered” in order to move into the future. Amnesties—judicial forgetting—appear in nations recovering from the trauma of war or human rights abuses. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission requires a detailed recollection of crimes as part of an amnesty petition that, if granted, serves the state as “a cold forgetting, expedient and instrumental.” Public monuments, Hyde asserts, “often become invisible,” so that people “can turn away from the past.” Considering the connection of memory to creativity, the author finds that many artists, composers, and writers seek “the delight or anxiety of fresh perception” rather than “the comfort or dullness of the habitual.” “Remembering betrays Nature,” wrote the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. “Because yesterday’s Nature is not Nature. / What’s past is nothing and remembering is not seeing.” Amnesia, nostalgia, forgiveness, retribution, and the mining of memory in psychoanalysis—Hyde considers all these and more.
An eclectic and insightful miscellany of playful, spirited, provocative reflections.