Book Of The Month – A Primer For Forgetting – To Study The Self Is To Forget The Self


Lewis Hyde’s nonfiction book, “A Primer for Forgetting,” explores the psychology and significance of maintaining a healthy memory-forgetting balance. It considers the value of forgetting and how it works in tandem with a good memory to facilitate a happy and fulfilling existence. Poet, writer, translator, and cultural critic Lewis Hyde is concerned with the role of the imagination in public life. Although all of Hyde’s works are fantastic in the artistic and philosophical domains, my personal favorite is “A Primer For Forgetting” because of its refreshingly unique approach to the topic of forgetting.

We’ve all been drilled on the value of a sharp memory since we were kids and assigned plenty of opportunities to practice. Despite the obvious significance of this, many of us are taught from a young age that forgetting is bad. We take pictures of our memories so they will endure forever, and we write down our research and other important information so it won’t be lost. However, Lewis Hyde reassures us in this outstanding essay that forgetting has its positive sides and is not a character flaw to be feared. Actually, forgetfulness is necessary for a tranquil existence at times. He uses examples from many eras and areas of society, as well as his own, to illustrate this idea throughout the book. Stories from history, mythology, politics, and even his own life were among those he chronicled. The author likely has given serious consideration to the concept of forgetting due to his experience as a child caring for a mother with dementia. Early in the book, he cites Funes the Memorious, Jorge Luis Borges’s most well-known short work of fantasy, to back up his argument. The protagonist, Ireneo Funes, gets knocked in the head and gains the gift (or curse) of perfect memory. Though helpful for expanding one’s knowledge, this undermines one’s ability to think critically. For example, when we think of a leaf, cow, or chair, we may have a fairly universal idea of what they are. However, Funes finds it challenging to place each leaf he has seen into a general phrase called “leaf” because each leaf has its own unique qualities, even for the same leaf at various times. The ability to disregard specifics and instead paint broad strokes is what allows us to think. The pandemonium that may ensue if we record every detail of our lives is frightening. A reason to be really thankful for! In a similar vein, he mulls over the concept of how memory might stifle imagination by causing one to hold on to too many abstractions (preventing one from perceiving new details) or too many details (preventing one from perceiving abstractions).

Myth, self, nation, and creation are the book’s main divisions, moving the reader from ancient to present times while providing examples of how each has dealt with memory and forgetting. Overall, the book reads like a muddled collection of well-researched opinions and anecdotes about the significance of forgetting in several contexts, including but not limited to historical and creative contexts and individual and psychological development. The author begins by discussing the concept of memory and forgetfulness as it is depicted in the mythology of numerous nations and religions. Upon death and before beginning a new life, each of them emphasizes the necessity of forgetting the past. The author then goes on to discuss a number of tragic and horrific incidents that have occurred around the world in recent decades, including lynchings in the United States as a result of racial crime and the American Civil War. Hyde uses these stories to illustrate how forgetting can lead to greater personal and political freedom. The artist must forget himself or herself in order to be truly free creatively, while the people must have an “honest remembering” of the tragic events in order to build a nation that is “steeped in history but not the past.”

The book is written in a unique and engaging style, one that is unusual for a work of nonfiction. The work is structured in an unconventional manner on purpose; the author wants the reader to come away with the conviction that the idea of memory and forgetting is deeply ingrained in our history, culture, and society, even if they don’t remember any of the stories or anecdotes. The author not only amazes with irony that focusing too much on forgetting actually makes the particular thing more grounded in the mind but also reminds readers of the blessing that our brain is biologically designed to be able to forget, which helps in perceiving the world the way we do and in moving on from past trauma to a peaceful life. Memory and forgetting: these mental processes make us conscious of time, and if we can’t let go of the pain we’ve had because of traumatic or unpleasant situations, we’ll never be able to move past them. To get past trauma, one need not forget the traumatic events themselves or try to block them from memory. Rather, one needs only release the associated negative emotions. Separate the experience from the negative emotions it evokes, and you’ll be left with merely a story.

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