On Suppressing the Past

10 Feb

When we do something we know we’ll come to regret, we try to forget. But, are we really forgetting or merely choosing not to remember? There’s a strong difference between the two, for me. Toni Morrison’s Beloved illustrates the story of a mother who made an ultimate sacrifice by murdering her daughter rather than be recaptured as a slave by her master. Looking closely at Sethe’s life as she continued on after this moment, it seems to me she tried her hardest to suppress both her actions as well as her former life as a slave. It’s not that she could ever forget such horrific experiences, but rather she found it best to not dwell on the past. It is still clear, however, that these memories were still laying heavily on her shoulders as she tried to seclude her family from the outside world. When Beloved comes back into her life, Sethe practically falls apart as she devotes all of her attention to her and neglects her relationship with Denver. I think this was her way of apologizing to Beloved and trying to make up for all the lost time because of what she did. When Beloved is exorcised, Sethe is able to move on and focus on her family. But, it wasn’t Beloved being destroyed that helped Sethe do so, I think it had to do more with her finally accepting “what is” and forgiving herself, a good initial step in dealing with any traumatic situation.

Nietzsche believed that the happiest people are those who know how to forget. Perhaps I am analyzing the term “forget” too closely because I don’t think we can intentionally forget something, at least not a significant memory or experience. Take leaving  your keys in your car, for example. You can say to yourself “oops! I forgot.” But, if something substantial or perhaps even traumatic happens in your life, you can’t really respond with “oops! I chose to forget that day.” Still, I do support Nietzsche’s idea of suppressing memories of the past that prevent you from moving along in both the present and your future. My idea of the strongest people are those who can pick themselves up by their own bootstraps, not “forget” where they’ve come from, but acknowledge what has shaped them.

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One Response to “On Suppressing the Past”

  1. novelnessidiotish February 10, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Good thoughts! So for traumatic situations, completely forgetting is advantageous in that it allows us to move on, and there is a hierarchy in the value of what is forgotten (car keys vs. the morality of decisions, for example.) What you seem to be looking at is the effects of forgetting these different types of experiences, and their repercussions. Nietzsche suggests a critical discourse that is attentive to the needs of the present: what is valuable in the experience be remembered, and what is damaging be let go of. Plato, on the other hand, sees any forgetting as a loss. It might be interesting to look at the effects of each of these. Sethe’s active forgetting forces her conflicted feelings out as a tangible spector (Beloved). People who are able to accept the experiences as part of them are able to move forward. Are there other examples of this that support this idea?

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