Is it Possible to Remember and Forget all at Once?

“To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” – Elie Wiesel

For my first blog post (I’m shocked but also pleased with myself that I’m doing this now and not later), I’d like to delve further into the discussion we were having on Monday, in regards to memory and forgetting because it really sparked my interest. But first- Catherine already so-brilliantly tackled this subject in her blog post that you can (and should) check out here. I would like to further expand on this.

In Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, writer Joseph Roach says, “Echoes in the bone refer not only to a history of forgetting but to a strategy of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” (34)  As soon as I read this line it stuck with me, and confused me a bit. Beth then immediately said what I was thinking: “Can we possibly forget and empower at the same time?”

^ Now, I still don’t know if I truly understand this. It might be a stretch, but I was quickly able to put our discussion in context of the book Night by Elie Wiesel. For those of you who have not read it, Night is a fairly short book in which Wiesel gives us his own personal account of when he and his family were forced into concentration camps when he was a child during the Holocaust through a first person narrative. As a side note, I would highly recommend this book. It stuck with me in a way no other prose has. Wiesel’s narrative is raw, horrifying, and I may or may not have locked myself in my room for hours afterward, crying…

A message Wiesel had echoed over and over again, not only in Night, but everywhere, was to “never forget.” Wiesel saw it as every single person’s moral duty to keep the memory of the victims alive and remember the Holocaust for precisely the unimaginable horror that it was. No details left out. No sugar-coating. Because forgetting is a very dangerous thing.

But we did it, still. We see it done everywhere. As time passes and the intensity of the situation wears off, these heavy and grave situations are taken more lightly. They’re commercialized. There are television shows, pictures, and people who will voice subtle jokes about it.  As time passes, little details slip through our memories-we allow ourselves to do what Elie Wiesel warned us against: to forget. To forgot history for exactly what it was.

And the same applies to every other devastating event. From Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, to 9/11, to the Titanic…

We let our memories become selective. The more time that passes, the more detached some people become. The intensity wears off. They pick and choose what they want to remember and how they want to remember it. And it’s strange, because Wiesel was clearly not the only one to write about the Holocaust. There are literally hundreds of other novels, textbooks, monuments, and museums to remind us. This history is everywhere. The same goes for every other event in history. It is so “in-our-face” that we can’t forget it. And yet, many still do. But they don’t completely forget. Like Catherine said in her post, they “turn to a romanticized re-creation of the past.”

In relation to Roach’s quote about simultaneously forgetting and empowering, the same is done here, I think. As a whole, the Holocaust is still acknowledged (I mean, you can’t deny it), and there are still statues and museums and people to keep our collective memory alive, yet at the same time, our minds forget the details, the enormity, and the raw pain.

But why? Why do we make this ok?



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