Nietzsche on Remembrance Imperatives

Apparently, they are for losers:

‘To be unable to take his enemies, his misfortunes and even his misdeeds seriously for long–that is the sign of strong, rounded natures with superabundance of a power which is flexible, formative, healing and can make one forget…. A man like this shakes from him, with one shrug, many worms which would have burrowed into another man; here and here alone is it possible, assuming that this is possible at all on earth–truly to ‘love your neighbour.”

I’ve always wondered about remembrance imperatives like “Never Forget.” The ones who forget are the ones who don’t have anything to remember, who saw it all on television and can’t distinguish fiction from fact. For those most intimately affected, can there be any doubt that we’ll remember? Who would begrudge us some momentary amnesia? Perhaps we ought to cultivate a science of forgetting instead, an amnesiotechnics.

Forget easily and often!






9 responses to “Nietzsche on Remembrance Imperatives”

  1. Daniel Avatar

    The people directly affected are the most worrisome. There’s always the chance that you won’t remember it *right.*

    1. Joshua Miller Avatar

      Agreed. Worse, we should worry that the obsession with some eyewitnesses over others will privilege a certain ideologically convenient version of the events. This is what Judith Butler gets very right in her work on mournablility, starting I think with her essay “Explanation and Exoneration, or What We Can Hear.”

      1. Daniel Avatar

        Cf You can find Romeo Dallaire’s _Shake Hands with the Devil_ on Amazon, in your library, on the shelf of everyone who’s ever had an interest in Africa, or international security, or development, or went through an activist phase in college (maybe a slight exaggeration, but only slight). There was a documentary. Nick Nolte played a composite character based on him next to Don Cheadle.

        I had to get a copy of Anyidoho’s _Guns Over Kigali_ in, well, Kigali.

        1. Joshua Miller Avatar

          Would you spell out your criticism for the folks who aren’t so familiar with the problems with Dallaire’s narrative? I mean, not me, of course, but, ummm… those other folks. 🙂

          1. Daniel Avatar

            In a nutshell, Dallaire’s narrative (especially the thumbnail version that’s current) has a few contentious perspectives on what happened in Rwanda: that with additional troops and a stronger mandate, the genocide could certainly have been stopped; that the more conciliatory approach UNAMIR was forced to take given its lack of capacity was wholly ineffective; that the RPF were pretty clear “good guys” (though the RPF’s reputation seems to be becoming tarnished in recent months).

            But now we’re taken far afield from remembrance-in-general.

          2. Joshua Miller Avatar

            Nesting replies only go so far, but apropos of this: “But now we’re taken far afield from remembrance-in-general.”

            I only ever meant to be critical of “remembrance imperatives” like “Never Forget!” or “Remember the Alamo!” On 9/11, it always seems like the real care for the victims’ families and friends comes second to the politicization of their tragedies to justify the Global War on Terror or the frightening growth of the security state. Forgetting in moderation is a welcome release; total forgetting is rubbish. Life completely stripped of memory is oblivion.

            That’s what Nietzsche was after, too:

            “Cheerfulness, good conscience, joyful action, trust in what is to come—all these depend, with the individual as with a people, on the following facts: that there is a line which divides what is observable and bright from what is unilluminated and dark, that we know how to forget at the right time just as well as we remember at the right time, that we feel with powerful instinct the time when we must perceive historically and when unhistorically. This is the specific principle which the reader is invited to consider: that for the health of a single individual, a people, and a culture the unhistorical and the historical are equally essential.”

            (From “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life“)

            This seems, as well, to be what Arendt is defending in her account of political deception: the power to do something novel by refusing to be bound by what was previously true. Of course, in the worst case, this leads to the Republican fear of fact-checkers and “the reality-based community.” So, yeah, it’s a balance.

          3. Daniel Avatar

            OK, but I do think that Rwanda’s genocide is subject to a kind of remembrance-imperative. Certainly in Rwanda itself: you can’t swing your arms without hitting some sort of genocide memorial, and “genocide denial” has become a dangerously flexible charge in the hands of the current government.

            But in my neck of the woods a less formal kind of imperative also applies. There’s no “Rwanda genocide day” that all security/peacekeeping theorists are required to celebrate. But, e.g., Rwanda inevitably comes up in almost any discussion of peacekeeping; were you to write something on genocide that didn’t make some reference to Rwanda it would raise eyebrows, etc.

          4. Daniel Avatar

            Your comments about the “reality-based community,” highlight, I think, an important difference between *forgetfulness* and *forgiveness*.

            At the NIH bioethics seminar on forgiveness a few years back, one of the speakers (I wish I could remember who) made what I think was the very good point that forgiveness is a difficult concept in part because it needs to be distinguished from two closely-related ones:

            1. Forgetting that the bad thing happened.
            2. Declaring that the bad thing was, after all, not so bad.

            We need some account of forgiveness (not captured by *deception*) that involves not being *bound* by what has gone before, but still being in communication in some way with it. I suspect Gadamer’s notion of “play” may actually be helpful here, but it’s been a long time since I’ve cracked Truth and Method.

          5. Joshua Miller Avatar

            I tend to think, with Arendt, that forgiveness is a bit overladen with Christian conception of charity. Instead, I prefer a conception of “releasement.” I’ve written about that a bit here:

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