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Remembrance and Forgetting

Prometheus bound

This morning MSNBC aired a minimally edited replay of their broadcast from the morning of September 11, 2001. I remember watching those images on that morning. I remember worrying about my colleagues who would be arriving at our New York office in the World Trade Center. I’d visited them a few months before, spending all day in the building– from early morning to early evening.

At the time, on that morning seven years ago, I viewed the images with disbelief, as in a dream. Now as I view them again, the emotions are still strong, but I see them with clear eyes. On the day of the actual event, I didn’t think we lived in a world where such a thing could happen; today I know such a thing has happened.

Prometheus, in eternal punishment, is chained to a rock, where his liver is eaten daily by a vulture, only to be regenerated, due to his immortality, by night.

But my topic is not the possibility of terrorist acts, but rather the replaying of memories and something Nietzsche called ressentiment, or the spirit of revenge. When we act out of the spirit of revenge, filled with the pain of the moment, we act out of weakness. In our digital age, if everything is recorded, can we ever forget the past? Will we be like Prometheus bound to a rock, our wounds forever raw? Will all human motivation be reduced to acting from the spirit of revenge, as no perceived slight or hurt ever fades from memory? The digital doesn’t fade, it’s on or off. The challenge to overcome the spirit of revenge grows larger as memory is displaced into our digital systems and networks. The digital is immortal and can be replayed endlessly at the click of a mouse.

I think perhaps we forget the meaning and power of forgetting. Manu Bazzano in his book “Buddha is Dead” discusses the modes of forgetting:

“There is forgetting and forgetting. We subconsciously remove from our memory unpleasant experiences, and we tend to ‘forget’ by sheer inertia. On a super-conscious level, however, we keep our consciousness fresh and vibrant by actively ‘forgetting.’ The noble person knows how to forget, not solely out of compassion (‘forgive and forget’), but also because there can be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present without forgetfulness. Life would drag on, forever unresolved, a life that ‘cannot have done with anything,’ a life of ressentiment, a sick life.”

In our digital age, with perfect replays, can we learn to digest and properly metabolize events and turn them into experience? When we act and create from experience, we’ve listened, reflected and responded. We’ve created something new to fill the present moment. To truly embrace change, we must not look back in anger, but walk purposefully into the future.

Published in culture digital looping politics zettel


  1. “Widow's weeds.” What an excellent image.

  2. There was a very interesting discussion of this on NPR yesterday. Some people think we don't replay the tape and remember enough, others think it's time to quit grieving. The problem is, grief is private and individual. Some of us are “over it” and ready to move on, others are not.

    Bush will never quit grieving, because he was in charge at the time. Until the Republicans are out, and a new sensibility is in, we will still be in widow's weeds.

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