The introduction to Adrian Forty’s “The Art of Forgetting” discusses the uncertain relationship between memory and material objects, particularly regarding societal/ collective memory. Forty builds upon three distinctive points concerning objects and memory to illustrate the doubts in the Aristotelian tradition. He suggests that objects are agents to forgetting and that there is a process to remembering. With this argument Forty establishes a means of further understanding collective memory.
For Aristotle objects are “material enactments of mental decay. […] If objects are made to stand for memory, the decay or destruction of the object implies forgetting” (Forty 4). The issue here is that memory does not lend to a physical description and physical objects endure a different decaying process than that of mental material (Forty 6). This leads to doubts in the relationship between memory and material objects.
These doubts appear through the assumption that objects can replace mental memory. The first of the three is ephemeral monuments, which suggests that “collective memory doesn’t dwell on material objects,” and we get rid of what we don’t want to remember (Forty 5). Then there is Freud with his theory of mental process stating that repression of the ego is similar to forgetting, which is often intentional and desired (Forty 5). The third doubt is the Holocaust memorials, as they both desire to simultaneously remember and forget, challenged by the commemoration of the event without lessoning its severity (Forty 6). These problems illustrate how Western thought assumes forgetting to be more straightforward than it actually is.
Forty states that there are four principle categories that identify objects as agents to forgetting. These categories suggest a way that a collective memory deals with the past and the magnitude of the memory through an object. Although each of these modes is responsive to material objects, the processes can be applied to mental material.
First there is separation, a mode that entails “what to be remembered and what can be forgotten” (Forty 8). Memorials and commemorative works that perform this dual nature mark the separation of life after death as a figurative separation of the physical from the spiritual. It is also a way of allowing the division of negative memories from positive without force, but the freedom to choose to remember. Typically when you attend a funeral or read an obituary there is a common separation of the individual’s identity regardless of the circumstance. The deceased will always be remembered for the good, positive attributes over the negative, which we allow ourselves to forget (momentarily).
Then there is exclusion, a selective process that permits only certain things to be remembered excluding others to be forgotten (Forty 9). Exclusion is a common feature in commemorative war memorials, where there is an attempt to preserve a positive perception of war over the horrors. Through exclusion...