A good memory is often rewarded. Whether that is by a good exam grade or a prize for winning a pub quiz, the general opinion in society is that a good memory reflects your intelligence.
There is also anxiety linked to memory. People often struggle to move on from the past and traumatic events that haunt them, wishing they could forget them.
Lewis Hyde explores this paradox in his book A Primer for Forgetting. The non-fiction book’s format is almost like a cross between a study and a self-help book. Split into four sections; Myth, Self, Nation and Creation, Hyde explores the meaning of memory and forgetting in many different contexts.
The short excerpts in each of the four notebooks of aphorisms make the book an easy read which you can either become engrossed in or pick up from a coffee table and flick through.
The scholar and writer from Boston is known for his previous books The Gift and Trickster Makes This World released over a decade ago.
This thought-provoking book cites a wide variety of sources and discusses the importance and usefulness of memory. He provides a healthy mix of sources and his own opinions and turns to mythology, religion, history and his own life and work to determine how memory is perceived in different situations.
A common theme in the book is questioning if someone can really move on and progress in life if they are still caught up in the past. Weighing up the pros and cons, he investigates whether holding on to the past creates baggage that gets in the way of living your life or if it is important to hold people to account. In this scenario, he mentions the threat of ‘organised forgetting’ in a nation. Hyde remembers historical nightmares like the brutal massacre of Native Americans at Sand Creek and Franco’s legacy in Spain.
These important comparisons contradict the idea of forgiving and forgetting bringing peace.
The book is the ultimate paradox. However, its inconsistency is what makes it worth the read. It is a complex subject and not mentioning all the loopholes and contradictions to the theory would not do it justice.
Hyde reprograms the normal way of viewing memory in this well researched book, bringing up interesting and unique points and finding all the sources necessary for the reader in an easy and creative way.
A Primer for Forgetting is out now, published by Canongate