The Metaphysics of Memory

Tony McKenna in Counterpunch:

It takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.

– James Baldwin

There are certain modern myths which gain credence and currency because they are rendered in a ‘scientific’ tone and language.  One such myth is that of the photographic memory.   As the name suggests, this refers to a person who can recall a past scene with all the accuracy of a photographic image.  Such memories neither fade nor fail and their crystalline clarity means they can be examined at will in the same way one might upload a digital image that has lost none of is clarity or lustre even if viewed many years after.

The idea of the human mind as operating akin to a machine, as a recording device with a given amount of storage space, is a belief which only comes into its own in the 19th century, at the time of the industrial revolution when those ‘dark satanic mills’ were springing up in and around the great cities; such a doctrine takes shape in a society where technological production has been ratcheted up to its zenith, its product effectively measured and quantified according to the relentless rhythms of the conveyer belt, and where human labour itself has been inexorably fused with the pistons and levers of the factory monolith.

More here.