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In Praise of Forgetting by David Rieff

I have two uncles who haven't spoken to one another in at least fifty years. It is widely thought that neither of them know why. They are not enlisting “the ethical imperative of forgetting so that life can go on”. Instead they ignore their own forgetfulness of the original offence and continue on, stubbornly, in silence. I have now grossly oversimplified, and irresponsibly distorted, what David Rieff is on about in his latest book. I will dive in to that now. The quotation above cannot be applied across the board but Rieff does a bang up job of discussing where it can be, to what degree, and to what end. At first I was annoyed that this spunky little 145 page gremlin did not have an index. With a great thinker cited about once every half-page, or so, it would do well to be able to look up their whereabouts later. After prancing through this little devil, however, I found the absence of such a thing to be no biggie. The reader embarks on a guided journey through a huge number of morsels of history, academia, and beyond. Rieff references a lot of great minds, Friedrich Nietsche, Hubert Butler, Hannah Arendt, among so many others, and each submission from his well read brain contributes to tension that has glorious release whenever he takes the wheel to do his own explaining. When landing on a paragraph where the man himself inserts some of his own careful points the enjoyment is akin to my memory of what a pint of Guinness tastes like (gluten causes me severe nasal problems— I have not had Guinness for years). This book is, at times, not as much an argument for forgetfulness as it is a responsible attack on the hazards of collective memory. Particularly the collective memory of a mob or political machine that is driven by momentum rather than facts. All in all it is a lovely survey of forgetfulness as an alternative to the numerous road blocks thrown up by the molestation, intentional or not, of history as it is recalled. While using world events as lily pads Rieff presents an analysis that could as easily be applied to selective political memory as it could to my grudged-up uncles. Well worth a read. I'll bet some of you will finish it while waiting for your computer to start up. My laptop is old and slow you see. I keep forgetting to update it.
--reviewed by Neil Hendry

by: Neil

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