The Theatre of Forgetting

From the time of Socrates and Plato we have seen a tremendous bias against writing. They privileged speech because it occurs in the presence of those who are engaged in conversation while writings are read in the absence of the author. There is another important drawback of writing. Both Socrates and Plato tell us that writing promotes forgetting. Once we write down something we do not have to remember it. Paradoxically, we are told that writing/ phonic writing was invented to overcome forgetting. The messengers in an oral society had the task of carrying the message through the power of their memory. But as messages grew in size and the distances and the time over which they had to be taken often failed their memories. Often wrong/ twisted messages were communicated. It is under the condition of failing memory that writing came to the rescue of an oral society.

Today we seem to have come back to the same impasse. But this time we have arrived by way of writing. While the oral societies arrived to loss of memory by way of speech, we have come to a loss of memory by way of writing. Today we do not have to remember the numbers of the people on our phone because they are stored for us on the memory of the phone or the internet. We seem to be living in an unstoppable now as we forget the past in a quick time on the internet and its several platforms. Perhaps, the increasing tools of artificial memory ( hypomnesia) are promoting forgetting ( amnesia) in our society. As surrogate memory becomes common, forgetting also begins to flourish. In the olden days, memory was archived in tombstones, memorials, books, museums etc. Today memory is digitized and we can instantly retrieve it with press of a button. We have come back to the condition of loss of memory by the high way of writing.

Our present condition reminds us about the Greek term Pharmakon. Pharmakon is stricken with ambiguity. It has three meanings: remedy, poison and scapegoat. We can see that writing becomes a pharmakon. What was remedy for an oral society is somehow poison for a literal/ writing society. We may say that we are blaming writing to escape our own slothful attitude. Thus, writing has simultaneously become medicine, poison and scapegoat. This is why we may have to come back to grammatology. We need it to understand our plight. The art of memory thus becomes a form of writing. It is a form of inner writing.

We write memory with mnemonics. It is this art that seems to be fading away with the growth of artificial memory. Mnemonics imposes an order on what has to be remembered. This order is mostly linear and hence, we mostly remember in sequential order whether backwards or forwards. It is by giving up on this inner form of writing that we suffer amnesia in the context of the dynamic worlds of the internet. We are fast forgetting the art of inner writing and thus have become a society that lives in the now of the unfolding spectacle of the worlds of the internet forgetting our past and even the future that is to come . This means our forgetting has a relation to our experience of time. Past or even the future is no longer our primary experience. We are drawn in now-time. Mnemonics. This loss of linkages with the past and future is accelerating forgetting

Remembering requires associations with things, places, persons or events etc. It requires a logic that takes us to an imaginary mental walk. The speed at which we are involved in the internet takes us both away from this inside into us as well as outside of the internet. The worlds of the internet have no outside of their texts. They are simply play of signs and the signified and dance of the signifiers. This is the reason there is no anchoring point in time and place for our memory. All of us have short memories. This means we live our life in a mode of forgetting. It means we de-compose the already composed content of the internet by inserting our meanings, values, feelings etc. This decomposition makes the content of the internet part of us. The content then that has become part of us gives us nothing to remember.

This is why we must say that grammatology opens us to the real reasons of our forgetting culture. We are writing the asignifying semiologies of the internet into our own texts differently. They become part of us for a time and we have little or no way of associating them to things, persons, events and places. The manner in which we write the content of the internet (insert meaning/ decompose) is attacking our memory and we are becoming a society that is living a culture of forgetting. This is dangerous. As past gets blanked out from our consciousness, we can simply mindlessly accept narratives of the past that may suit a vested interest. The past that became a blank slate then predispose us to manipulated, distorted versions of the past that may be irrupting on to the platforms of the web engineered by vested interest. This may make us vulnerable to mind control.

Perhaps because of our own good, we have to retrieve the art of inner writing and bring back memory in a society that is submerged in a culture of forgetting. We have to disrupt the theatre of forgetting and install the theatre of memory. Here we may have to pay heed to Paul Ricoeur who calls for responsible remembering and forgetting. We need ethics of memory and forgetting when it comes to social memory. We can dig painful disruptive memories. Such an exercise can disturb the peace of our society. This is why while installing this art of inner writing as well as writing outside through memorials, history, archives etc., we have to take ethics as guide that takes common good of the society as the touchstone to retrieve lost memory.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao