“Don’t Speak, Memory,” by Michael S. Roth. A book review of “In Praise of Forgetting,” by David Rieff. The Wall Street Journal, 6/27/2016.
Ah, those senior moments: “Why did I come down here to the basement?” “What was the name of that actor who played The Thin Man?” “Why did I log onto Amazon?” We hate these unexpected moments of forgetfulness, but we should be thankful for the ability to forget. Ask any couple in a long marriage.
A woman recently mentioned that no woman would have a second child if she remembered what having the first was like. Being a second child, myself, I am especially grateful for forgetfulness.
Nietzsche said that “life in any true sense is impossible without forgetfulness.” Taking a global view, he argued that lasting peace is impossible without some forgetting. After the Rwandan Genocide, many of the warring Tutsi and Hutus had to resume living as neighbors, despite the atrocities committed. Forgetting was important. Chinese visitors to Longwood Gardens show no resentment to my wife’s Japanese heritage, although some must have had innocent relatives killed by the Japanese invaders in the 1930s. Shi’a Muslims today go into battle with Sunni Muslims shouting, “Remember Hussein!” the grandson of Muhammad and their Imam who was killed by Sunnis in battle in the year 680.
The memory of past injustices easily inspires efforts to somehow make up for them in the present, explains author Rieff, but this only results in a perpetuating cycle of violence and suffering by those who had nothing to do with the original insult, in a Buddhist karma cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Long memories can be nothing but trouble, I kid you not.