Raffaella Baccolini Sometime, Between Memory and Forgetting

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1 1 di 8 09/06/ Raffaella Baccolini Sometime, Between Memory and Forgetting My essay partly has to do with the notion of deferral and postponement, that, in my title, is represented by that vague sometime. Such a notion is of particular interest to me, as I myself have been affected by it in my research. Having worked for the past ten years and more on issues linked with memory, the notions of amnesia and forgetting have always been present in my mind mostly though, I would have to admit, as something to reject and fight against. I have mostly concentrated on the value of memory, its use and abuse, and its relationship with what I have called radical or critical nostalgia.[1] Therefore, I have always postponed the moment until I would feel comfortable, interested, in a way at ease in order to tackle it: I have deferred any discussion of forgetting and its implications until now. Deferral, though, in the sense that I will use it here, moves partially away from the most famous explanation given of it by Sigmund Freud. For Freud, deferral is associated with the pleasure-principle and the reality-principle. Whereas the pleasure-principle corresponds to the desire for immediate gratification, the reality-principle refers to the deferral of that gratification. The pleasureprinciple drives the individual to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But as individuals grow up, they begin to learn that sometimes it is necessary to endure pain and defer gratification because of the demands and obstacles of reality: An ego thus educated has become reasonable, says Freud, and no longer lets itself be governed by the pleasure principle, but obeys the reality principle, which also at bottom seeks to obtain pleasure, but pleasure which is assured through taking account of reality, even though it is pleasure postponed and diminished (qtd. in Felluga on line). Apart from being slightly uncomfortable with this emphasis on quantity, deferral to me has to do with the postponement, until a better time, of pain and discomfort rather than pleasure the kinds of feelings possibly arising from traumatic and conflicting memories. But deferral, in its association with memory and imagination, can also become the space of the possible, where writers come to terms with the past, undo it, and provide the possibility for change. It is my intention here to review some of the debates related to memory and forgetting, and to argue that deferral may be a necessary strategy not only to gain perspective and distance on the past, but also to get to remember, and not forget, the past, and to reconcile with, and not forgive, past wrongs. Some examples from literature will illustrate what I am trying to argue. 1. Forgetting and Memory So - to begin - despite my own deferral, the very notion of memory invites a reflection on forgetting. Forgetting is part of memory, and as suggested by many, a necessary and vital part. Starting with Greek tradition, its mythology tells us that Lethe is a female divinity whose mother is Eris, the goddess of strife and discord (Theoi Project on line). Lethe, the goddess of forgetfulness and oblivion, is associated with night and is opposed to Mnemosyne, who is the goddess of memory and is associated with light. But for most of us Lethe is the river of forgetfulness: we drink of the waters of Lethe so that on our births, by forgetting our past life we make room for our new life and all the emotions, thoughts, and actions that will determine the quality of that life to be. But, the river Lethe is also connected with death and the Underworld, where the shades of the dead had to let go of their earthly lives by drinking from its waters. Forgetting then can bring relief from the painful memories of life. At the same time, forgetting seems to lead to sleep (Lethe, night), as Paul Valéry once wrote that to go to sleep is to forget (Weinrich 5). But dreams, as we know, are also associated with memory: in our dreams we remember and transform people and events from our lives. Forgetting continues to be seen as necessary by different thinkers. For Marc Augé, for example, it is indispensable: we need to know how to forget in order to taste the present; we need to forget the recent past to recover the more distant past (11). Paul Ricoeur dedicates the last part of his recent study on Memory, History, Forgetting (La memoria, la storia, l oblio) on the necessity of forgetting as a condition for the possibility of remembering, and on whether there can be something like happy forgetting in parallel to happy memory ( ). For both, and since Friedrich Nietzsche who also concluded his reflection on the use and abuse of history and the past with the recommendation Learn to forget, an active forgetting (Nietzsche) is necessary to open up the possibility of the future. Like plants in a garden, memories must be selected and pruned to help new memories to bloom and grow (Augé 29). It is clear that for Augé and others, forgetting does not really mean the loss of memory tout court, but rather the possibility of movement and change against an official, sometimes rigid, prescribed memory what I would call a false and manipulative memory or its abuse. Forgetting, thus, serves as imagination, to maintain memory and the curiosity for the past alive. Despite this, I remain uncomfortable with the idea of forgetting. One way to approach this discomfort is to see whether there are different kinds of forgetting, or if oblivion can be of use, or still, whether there can be a critical or radical forgetting in the same way that there are different kinds of memories. Psychoanalysis provides one such distinction, between what Harald Weinrich has called unpacified... and pacified forgetting (136), i.e. the retrieval of the repressed before and after the cure. Again, forgetting and memory have to do, according to Freud, with the avoidance of displeasure: whatever one finds unpleasant or embarrassing is repressed and forgotten. This is what often happens to trauma. However, it seems to me, that there is a growing request and a need for accounts that bear witness to traumatic memories. Another distinction between dumb and smart forgetting is offered by Paul Valery, who considers it advisable to distinguish forgetting that results in mere loss... from a kind of forgetting that has positive effects. Forgetting becomes the instrument the body uses to differentiate quotidian and trivial memories from memories that serve life (Weinrich 145). Similarly, Ricoeur distinguishes between complete forgetting and a kind of forgetting that he calls kept in reserve. Whereas complete forgetting threatens to destroy memory traces once and for all, forgetting that is kept in reserve allows memories, temporarily forgotten, to be retrieved ( oblio di riserva o di risorsa, 626). In this sense, forgetting suggests that the persistence of memory is not consciously perceptible, and that we actually forget less than we think or fear we will.

2 2 di 8 09/06/ But my sense of unease with forgetting has to do, first of all, with the fact that the very notions of oblivion and memory call into question also the issue of ethics and morality. This seemingly simple and vital notion of active forgetting clashes with the choice of what can be forgotten, what must not be forgotten, and who calls the shots. In fact, one of the problems I have with forgetting has to do with the position from which one speaks. To a certain extent, the claims of Augé and Ricoeur are very effective and persuasive, but they sound intellectual, or abstract and unconvincing when placed next to the dilemmas that real people live in everyday life. In fact, what is one to do with traumatic memories? Who is to say what is right to do in the case of traumas? On what grounds is one to tell a veteran, an incest survivor, someone who has gone through the experience of the Holocaust, or someone who has lost a member of his/her family to a conflict to just put the past behind? Another reason why the idea of forgetting is disturbing is that memory has always been and still is profoundly associated with the idea of identity. In The Ethics of Memory, Avishai Margalit states that who we are depends on our not forgetting things that happened and that are important in our lives (208). To go back to the Greeks once again, memory is inextricably linked with imagination and identity, thus creating a profound link with the artistic imagination: Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, is the mother of the muses and the patroness of intellectual and artistic efforts. Through her daughters, she grants the power to tell of what is, and what is to be, and what was before now (Hesiod l. 38), so that memory became, in a sense, the source of creativity. Conversely, for Greeks, to be bereft of memory is equivalent to losing oneself. Thus, the link between memory, imagination, and identity is a founding element of Western culture, and frequently occurs in much literature (Baccolini, A useful knowledge ). In a poem called Transcendental Etude, Adrienne Rich underlines the condition of loss in women s lives, where the lack of remembering becomes a fragmentation of one s body and a displacement: But in fact we were always like this,/ rootless, dismembered: knowing it makes the difference (75). The past and the knowledge of it, then, become an aspect of memory that can be empowering. Western discussions of memory have been characterized by an attempt to distinguish between different kinds of memory. Vince Geoghegan has recently reviewed the wide range of memory words, many used synonymously that come up in the debate and somewhat hesitantly and rightly so has proposed the following list: recalling, recollection, remembering, and recognition ( Religion ). Of these, recalling is the weakest, less intentional form of memory; recollection is a more active and conscious searching for memories ; remembering involves a strong epistemological claim ; and recognition a working through of memories and a reflection on their significance ( Religion ). So western tradition has it that we go from a more simple recall to the more profound and unsettling recognition of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine two types of memories of which the second involves judgment and leads to knowledge (cfr. Yates 1-81). A similar distinction continues to be present in modern and contemporary reflections on memory. The German philosopher Ernst Bloch, for example, distinguishes between anamnesis (recollection) [and] anagnorisis (recognition) (Geoghegan, Remembering 58). Whereas recollection is conservative and precludes new knowledge, anagnorisis involves recognition... [where] memory traces are reactivated in the present (Geoghegan, Remembering 58). Memory, the repository of experience and value, is therefore necessary to an understanding of oneself and of the past, but also of the present and the future alike, and acquires thus a social dimension (Baccolini, A useful knowledge 118). Forgetting is thus associated with loss and disempowerment in this line of thought that sees, on the other hand, memory connected with emancipation. To remember is, for Theodore Adorno, an act of resistance (qtd. in Marcuse 99), whereas, for Herbert Marcuse, it helps to break for short moments, the omnipresent power of the given facts (98) hegemonic historical discourse with its master narratives that have erased our historical memory so that it becomes hard to distinguish between past and present. Finally, memory is associated with hope in Walter Benjamin s Theses on the Philosophy of History and has a redemptive power: memory is important, for every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns and thus is not remembered threatens to disappear irretrievably (V, 247). Thus a society that is incapable of recollection, recognition, and remembrance is without hope for the future, as it shows no concern for the often silenced histories of the oppressed, the marginalized, the dispossessed. As Benjamin reminds us, it is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us (qtd. in Marcuse 257; cf. Baccolini, A useful knowledge ). It seems necessary to distinguish, then, between a conservative and a progressive use of memory, the latter acquiring also a social and an ethical dimension. Choice, responsibility, and action go together with memory and knowledge of the past for Adrienne Rich, who claims that if it is the present that calls us to activism, it is history that must nourish our choices and commitment (152). Memory is therefore necessary as it is an important step for a political praxis of change, action, and empowerment. Our reconstructions of the past shape our present and future. 2. Memory, Forgetting, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation One field where forgetting is often evoked as a positive force is the area of forgiveness. Frequently, we hear the suggestion that a little forgetting is necessary if we want to move on in life.[2] Hence, against the call, on the one hand, to bear witness to a traumatic past (the Shoah, civil wars, etc.), we also have a call, on the other, for letting go of that past. This is most clear in those countries that have been torn by internal conflicts and by the current call for historical forgiveness or reconciliation. My discussion of memory, then, cannot avoid considering the link between forgetting, forgiving, and reconciliation (cfr. also Baccolini A useful knowledge ). In order to move beyond past conflicts, a global call for forgiveness is going on everywhere, so much so that Roy L. Brooks has claimed that we have clearly entered what can be called the Age of Apology (3).[3] What is happening is certainly a complex and fascinating phenomenon that wavers between what seems to have become contrition chic, on the one hand, and the recognition of guilt, the possibility of atonement and mourning accompanied by the possibility of settlement (rather than reparation) without apology, on the other. This raises the disturbing doubt that all this may be nothing more than a superficial operation to boost a nation s self-image. And beyond this very disturbing suspicion, the issue reveals the complex relationship between the need to remember and the need to forget in order to make a new start and build the future. Many think that it is not necessary to hold on to the past because the past is an unnecessary burden, an obstacle to progress

3 3 di 8 09/06/ toward the future. Former US President Ronald Reagan s comment during his visit to Bitburg Military Cemetery on 5 May 1985 the cemetery where SS soldiers are buried suggests just that: I don t think we ought to focus on the past. I want to focus on the future. I want to put that history behind me. His statement reveals a desire to move beyond the past, a desire for forgetfulness. Similarly, Australian Prime Minister John Howard claimed that, while in power, there would be no formal apology to Aboriginal Australians, and that it was best to focus on the future: It is time that we stopped this business about who was to blame for what may or may not have happened in the past (Gordon on line). Prior to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, the old regime had urged that the time had come to forgive and forget (Siebert on line).[4] Such positions of denial are obviously problematic and do not contemplate the possibility of contrition. Reagan, like the South Africans politicians, just wants to get on and forget the whole thing, without even asking the victims if such a move is appropriate or even desirable. In so doing, he silences the victims, and secures for himself a power he does not and should not have. In his case, forgetfulness is the answer. And Howard is even more adamantly against the business of apology. When contrition is part of the agenda, however, the issue becomes more complex. Episodes of contrition have certainly been important moments in that they seem to have represented a significant understanding and admission of responsibilities an act of recognition. At the same time, not all acts of contrition for past wrongs have a practical follow-up in present-day life and politics.[5] The gesture of contrition does not lead to a substantial change in everyday life, but it certainly helps to revive pride in a nation s, or a group s self-esteem. Therefore, one is left to wonder whether these often empty gestures are mostly done to make those who apologize feel good and to reaffirm the status quo. And even if they are not, but are nonetheless ineffective for a real change, we wonder what good are they to the victims and, in general, or what value is repentance without some form of redress, whether monetary or non-monetary, and to what extent have they been commodified and co-opted.[6] Yet, for Weinrich and many others, forgiving and forgetting go together; they are two aspects of one and the same thing (168). Forgetting becomes prescribed in the case of amnesties, a fact underlined also by the linguistic affinity between amnesty and amnesia. In the 17 th and 18 th centuries in Europe (but really starting in Athens in 403 BC), it became common for peace treaties to include a comprehensive order to forget all culpable acts committed during the preceding conflict. This was often expressed formally as amnesty and oblivion or prescribed forgetting (Weinrich 171). Such a measure is supposed to provide the basis for an enduring peace. But the very act of prescription the fact that it is a voluntary forgetting separates amnesties from forgiveness. Among the various discussions of forgiveness, I would like to concentrate on Avishai Margalit s reflection, as it seems to me to be the most fruitful. Starting with an analysis of the Bible, Margalit says that there are at least two distinct words for forgiveness and four different meanings. The Hebrew words, salakh and nasa, mean to wash and to carry and are referred to God and to humans, respectively (185-86). Hence, four different meanings of forgiveness are exemplified in the Bible, as carrying a burden, as covering up, as blotting out, and as canceling a debt (191). Of these progressively increasing... degrees of forgiveness, Margalit concentrates on the opposition between forgiveness as covering up and blotting out the sin. The opposition is the difference between forgiveness and forgetting (191-92). Since blotting out the sin implies erasing or deleting it and, also, the turning back of time, such type of forgetting is mainly reserved to God. Human forgiveness, on the other hand, cannot undo the past and deals, thus, with the irreversible. Thus the wish for the past to be undone through atonement is, for Margalit, an illusion (198).[7] Forgiveness, then, starts with disregarding, not in the sense of not remembering, but in the sense of consciously deciding to change one s attitude and to overcome resentment and vengefulness,... anger and humiliation, and as such it is a result of a long effort rather than a decision to do something on the spot (204). Thus forgiveness denotes both a process and an achievement (205), something that we can begin, but whose end-result is not completely in our hands (208-09). Overcoming resentment does not entail forgetting: it does not mean that resentment or our desire for revenge has disappeared, rather, that we choose not to act on our feelings. Forgiveness then becomes first of all something we owe to ourselves (207). A non-magical way of undoing the past, without forgetting it, and a successful forgiveness require, for Margalit, the presence of remorse. Remorse presupposes, or can occur only with an assumption of responsibility for the deed, and this assumption, in turn, is supposed to create a rift between the act and the doer. Thus, an offender can be forgiven even if the offense cannot be forgotten (199). Thus, according to Margalit, for us humans, time and the past can be undone only through choice and the assumption of responsibility. Such intervention on the past, however, is best achieved, I believe, by moving away from the religious language employed so far and the consequent script of guilt, atonement, and forgiveness that is too often synonymous with forgetfulness, thus doing very little to address the issue of what I prefer to call reconciliation. Political leaders often insist on the need to overcome the contradiction between justice and memory, on the one hand, and reconciliation, on the other, with a form of negotiated reconciliation that, by erasing the past, cleans the slate for a new beginning and a new identity. For it is true that, as Maurice Halbwachs has argued, collective memory is one factor shaping a group s identity. Thus, if too close an adherence to the past on either part may lead to a stall in the path to reconciliation, a reconciliation that does away with the memory of the past may very easily lead to denial and self-deception. The language employed and, consequently, the outlook and actions taken may well represent the difference between a superficial and a successful reconciliation. Religious forgiveness should not be a part of the discourse of political, secular reconciliation. Whereas reconciliation implies mutual acceptance that the past wrongs have happened and, in turn, acceptance of responsibilities followed by political and legal measures thereby combining individual and collective action forgiveness belongs to an individual, religious plane and cannot be requested or enforced as a political goal. Moreover, the religious overtones may ultimately work as an excuse to postpone any serious attempt at reconciliation and deliver it in the hands of God. The discussion so far has shown that the past can be changed through denial or an assumption of responsibility. But, I would argue, that the past can also be undone through deferral, imagination, and with an act of radical nostalgia the desire for an irretrievable past that cannot be changed, and it is such a nostalgia for what could have been that can constitute moments of

4 4 di 8 09/06/ possibilities that crack a fixed past. Rather than looking for some form of vital or active forgetting, I think that it may help to turn to deferral, which is neither complete forgetting nor full memory. The idea of deferral may represent a possible alternative to the growing request to forget, especially in the case of traumatic memories. Deferral, moreover, may also allow us to move away from current notions such as shared memory that presuppose consensus among the parts involved and, in particular, consent of the offended part. Such notion becomes more problematic in the case of conflicts like civil wars, where despite recognizing the madness that has taken place, both parties still think they have their own legitimate reasons. 3. Memory, Nostalgia, and Deferral Deferral can offer temporary relief, a suspension of time in order to gain awareness and distance when linked to the power of imagination, for example, in Tim O Brien s collection The Things They Carried (1990). A Viet Nam veteran, O Brien insists on the power of storytelling in order to reconcile himself with the past and its traumatic memories. The book, a collection of interconnected, somewhat autobiographical short stories narrated in the first person by a character also named Tim O Brien is lovingly dedicated to the characters that, in the credit page, we are told are mostly imaginary. Deferral presents itself not only as distance in time (the book is written some twenty years after O Brien served in Viet Nam), but also as a distance from the real past through writing (the truth is deferred, displaced). Imagination provides then a form of relief and distance at the same time that it also means a damnation, as the past repeats itself through the memory of the writer: Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future (40). Imagination the difference between what O Brien calls story-truth and happening-truth does not provide absolution, nor an excuse for the writer to shrink from his responsibilities: it can make the horror of war easier to grasp for readers, but it is also a way for O Brien to expand the notion of guilt and responsibility: It s time to be blunt. I m forty-three years old, true, and I m a writer now, and a long time ago I walked through Quang Ngai Province as a foot soldier. Almost everything else is invented. But it s not a game. It s a form. Right here, now, as I invent myself, I m thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is. For instance, I want to tell you this: twenty years ago I watched a man die on a trail near the village of My Khe. I did not kill him. But I was present, you see, and my presence was guilt enough. I remember his face, which was not a pretty face, because his jaw was in his throat, and I remember feeling the burden of responsibility and grief. I blamed myself. And rightly so, because I was present. But listen. Even that story is made up. I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth. Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief. Here is the story-truth. He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole. I killed him. What stories can do, I guess, is make things present. I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again. Daddy, tell the truth, Kathleen can say, did you ever kill anybody? And I can say, honestly, Of course not. Or I can say, honestly, Yes. (203-04) Truth, we can say, in these war stories lies in the feelings rather than in the facts. Imagination and storytelling make us feel and make the past present and alive, but they can also undo the past. So that the daughter s naïve question whether her father ever killed a man can have two contradictory and yet honest and sensible answers. Both answers make sense because through imagination and assumption of responsibility O Brien has broadened the very notion of responsibility and guilt. But the story also shows the limits of such an undoing of the past (the past is undone for the narrator, not for the dead man) limits caused by the standpoint of the narrator, a limit though that I believe the narrator acknowledges as he does not even dare to imagine the enemy. But deferral can also offer temporary relief in the sense of suspending time in order to gain awareness and distance, thus providing one with enough energy to propose a change. An example of it is represented by Jeorge Semprun s choice to postpone his writing on Buchenwald until 1994: the title Literature or Life (1997) shows the need to find a balance between writing and remembering and forgetting and living. Similarly, but in the realm of fiction, Cynthia Ozick, in her short story Rosa a story on the different uses of memory shows us a character, a Holocaust survivor, who also finds temporary relief in deferral and writing. Years after her infant daughter, Magda, was killed in the concentration camps, Rosa is held hostage to her memories and lives, secluded and cut off from the rest of the world, in a dark hole in Miami after having smashed the junkshop she had in New York (13). Her only relief is the temporary denial of Magda s death, to whom she writes beautiful letters in Polish, her mother tongue. The writing of these letters are Rosa s only source of pleasure, and to speak in her own language is compared to the recovery of home bliss (40). Language and imagination provide Rosa with nostalgic irretrievability: What a curiosity it was to hold a pen nothing but a small pointed stick, after all, oozing its hieroglyphic puddles: a pen that speaks, miraculously, Polish. A lock removed from the tongue. Otherwise the tongue is chained to the teeth and the palate. An immersion into the living language: all at once this cleanliness, this capacity, this power to make a history, to tell, to explain. To retrieve, to reprieve! To lie. (44)

5 5 di 8 09/06/ Against indifference for and ignorance of the stories Rosa would have liked to tell in English to her customers, the letters represent, on the one hand, her undoing of the past when she conjures up images of Magda as a young doctor married to a doctor (35) at one time and, at another, as a professor of Greek philosophy at Columbia University in New York City (39). But they are also a way for Rosa to deal with the past and her memories. The contradictory (empowering and yet painful) power of language is summed up in those two verbs to retrieve and to reprieve and in their respective meanings and associations. To retrieve (which means to call to mind again, to regain, to rescue, to revive, to remedy [Webster online]) is to recover and restore Magda to life, but also to relive the traumatic past; to reprieve (which means to delay the punishment of a condemned prisoner, for example, but also to give relief and deliverance to for a time [Webster online]) is to give temporary relief but also to postpone the pain she feels. But as soon as she is finished with her musing on language and the empowerment it can offer, Rosa cannot help but realize that her imagination is also a lie hence, the contradictions of and limits in her use of language. Rosa s reflections and struggles attest to the difficulties she has in accepting the past. When Persky, a man she meets who is also a Polish immigrant but has not gone through the Shoah, urges her that sometimes a little forgetting is necessary, Rosa can only counter with the assertion that for her only the life during the camps stays and that to call it a life is a lie (58). Stella, on the other hand, the niece who survived with Rosa the experience of the camps (and is in some way co-responsible for Magda s death) is perceived by Rosa as being steeped in denial when she urges her aunt to give it a rest and to live [her] life (31, 33). [Stella is the one that gives Rosa a blue striped dress as a present to Rosa for her birthday: of Stella Rosa says, as of innocent, as if ignorant, as if not there. Stella, an ordinary American, indistinguishable! (33)]. But none of these takes on the past seem to work. It is Rosa s deferral through language and imagination that turns out to start a final epiphany for Rosa, one that allows her to move from the prison of memory to liberation, grounded nonetheless in the recognition and the acknowledgment of responsibility. In her last letter to her daughter, occasioned by yet another deferral the non-arrival of the shawl with which Rosa used to wrap Magda in the camps Rosa recognizes her own snobbishness and the tragedy and delusion of the assimilated Jews like her who thought that their culture and wealth would save them: When I had my store I used to meet the public, and I wanted to tell everybody not only our story, but other stories as well. Nobody knew anything. This amazed me, that nobody remembered what happened only a little while ago. They didn t remember because they didn t know. I m referring to certain definite facts. The tramcar in the Ghetto, for instance.... Can you imagine a family like us... imagine confining us with teeming Mockowiczes and Rabinowiczes and Perskys and Finkelsteins... [W]e were furious: because the same sort of adversity was happening to us my father was a person of real importance, and my tall mother had so much delicacy and dignity that people would bow automatically, even before they knew who she was.... In my store I did not tell this to everyone; who would have the patience to hear it all out?... I would tell just about the tramcar. When I told about the tramcar no one ever understood it ran on tracks!... The tramcar came right through the middle of the Ghetto. What they did was build a sort of overhanging pedestrian bridge for the Jews, so they couldn t get near the tramcar to escape on it into the other part of Warsaw. The other side of the wall. The most astounding thing was the most ordinary streetcar, bumping along on the most ordinary trolley tracks, and carrying the most ordinary citizens going from one section of Warsaw to another, ran straight into the place of our misery. Every day, and several times a day, we had these witnesses. Every day they saw us women with shopping sacks; and once I noticed a head of lettuce sticking up out of the top of a sack green lettuce! I thought my salivary glands would split with aching for that leafy greenness. And girls wearing hats. They were all the sort of plain people of the working class with slovenly speech who ride tramcars, but they were considered better than we, because no one regarded us as Poles anymore. (66-68) Writing to her daughter, she recognizes that she has become just like the ordinary Polish woman with the lettuce, indifferently riding on the tramcar that passed through the ghetto and witnessing the tragedy of the Jews without doing anything: And in this place now I am like the woman who held the lettuce in the tramcar. I said all this in my store, talking to the deaf. How I became like the woman with the lettuce (69). Such self-discovery and recognition opens up the way for an almost utopian moment of hope and change. Rosa has the phone reconnected, signaling thus an opening up to the future, further symbolized by her temporary forgoing of Magda and the acceptance of Persky s visit. But change is possible only because it is grounded in the acknowledgment of her responsibility: like the indifferent Polish witnesses of the ghetto and the indifferent customers who do not care for nor understand Rosa s stories, Rosa has become herself indifferent, cut off from her fellow humans. Ozick shows that a possible response to trauma is not in forgetting and even less in forgiveness; rather, it is awareness, knowledge, and recognition brought about by memory, imagination, and deferral. Another example of the past being undone through the imagination can be found in the poem Draft of a Reparations Agreement by Israeli poet Dan Pagis:... Everything will be returned to its place,... The scream back into the throat. The gold teeth back to the gums.... The smoke back to the tin chimney and further on and inside back to the hollow of the bones, and already you will be covered with skin and sinews and you will live, look, you will have your lives back, sit in the living room, read the evening paper. Here you are. Nothing is too late. As to the yellow star:

6 6 di 8 09/06/ it will be torn from your chest immediately and will emigrate to the sky. (387-88) But imagination here works to negate the possibility of forgiveness and forgetting. The reparations agreement of the title could occur only with the undoing of time, as if we were watching a film backward. Finally, an example of deferral may also be found in two books that were presented at the University of Bologna, Don Mullan s The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings (2000) and Evelyn Conlon s Later On: The Monaghan Bombing Memorial Anthology (2004).[8] Mullan s book is a clear example, I think, of the time needed to gain perspective but also to ask questions that have remained unanswered for too long regarding the bombings that took place on 17 May Conlon s anthology quietly presents itself as possibly the delicate balancing act between public recognition and moving on (10-11). In Forlì, Conlon talked of her experience in the compilation of the anthology. For a period she was a writer in residence in the town, during which time a large number of people came to her to tell their own stories of the bombing for the first time. In particular, she stressed how the experience of the bombing had never been told before. No courtroom had provided the public space in which things were publicly said, aired for all to hear; no trial had provided an open space for a catharsis for the community. Instead, thirty years later on, members of the community would appear to the writer-in-residence to tell their stories. The memorial anthology was compiled, then, in a long deferred context of remembering and commemoration (Leech, The language of War online). In many pieces I have found a desire to undo the past through a critical nostalgia, a nostalgia for a beloved one that was lost in the bombing and for what could have been the life and the possibilities that were foreclosed forever together with the pain that has marked those who have survived. These can be summarized by Brendan White s repetition thirty birthdays/ Mother s Days/ Christmas mornings without (72). But of all the pieces, I want to focus on and end my discussion with John McArdle s account that, perhaps, come closest to express the anguish of negotiating deferral with reconciliation, awareness and understanding with compassion. Where Was I When? depicts the way traumatic events affect our consciousness: the memory of what we were doing at that time marks us forever. This is further complicated, though, when personal feelings are involved, so that the writer remembers not where he was but the confusion and the anguish experienced: This was my place, and my mind went there and lost itself (59). McArdle attempts to show the ways in which emotions such as resentment and vengefulness come in the way of understanding and feeling: Over the years we had become inured to images across the border; now we were back to empathy. Or we might have been if we had not labelled the bombers psychopaths (59-60). The assumption of responsibility on McArdle s part is paralleled by the recognition, on the part of the thirty convicted Provos, that naming and blaming only makes us imagine we are perfect, that by making scapegoats we can only imagine we are healed. It is an illusion fostered by the teaching of a love too narrow, a love that could be proven by the sincerity of our hatred. McArdle s words attest to the confusion and the intricacy of labels, names, and the assigning of blame: psychopaths, teachers, parents, and lovers are all involved, caught in the hatred of those years, trying to escape from the twisted straw rope of their lives. But McArdle s assumption of responsibility is not an empty gesture suggesting that we are all guilty somehow. His account ends on one of the problems I identified as troublesome for the issue of moving on and reconciliation: the position from which one speaks. Can we say then that the Monaghan bombers could have been lovers too?, asks McArdle, Maybe we can t. And if I had a close relative killed or injured in the blast, I don t know if I could either (60). In closing I want to remember that deferral can not and must not, by any means, be confused with the avoidance of responsibility and the lack of justice. These can only risk compromising any serious attempt at reconciliation. The examples from literature I have selected show that reconciliation with what has happened does not need to consist in a forgetting of the past nor in an abolishment of the fault. It needs, however, assumption of responsibilities, awareness and knowledge of what has happened, a working through and a reflection on the past, in short justice. Works Cited Augé, Marc. Le forme dell oblio. Dimenticare per vivere. Trans. Roberto Salvadori. Milano: il Saggiatore, Baccolini, Raffaella. A useful knowledge of the present is rooted in the past : Memory and Historical reconciliation in Ursula K. Le Guin s The Telling. Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. Ed. Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan. New York: Routledge, Baccolini, Raffaella. Finding Utopia in Dystopia: Feminism, Memory, Nostalgia, and Hope. Utopia Method Value: The Use Value of Social Dreaming. Ed. Tom Moylan and Raffaella Baccolini. Oxford and Berne: Peter Lang, forthcoming Benjamin, Walter. Theses on the Philosophy of History. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. London: Fontana, Brooks, Roy L. When Sorry Isn t Enough. The Controversy over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice. NY and London: NY UP, Conlon, Evelyn. Later On. The Monaghan Bombing Memorial Anthology. Dingle: Brandon, Felluga, Dino. Terms Used by Psychoanalysis. Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. [28 Nov. 2003]. Purdue U. < accessed 16 December Geoghegan, Vincent. Religion and the Memory of Utopia. (forthcoming).

7 7 di 8 09/06/ Geoghegan, Vincent. Remembering the Future. Utopian Studies 1.2 (1990): Gordon, Michael. Apology Back on the Agenda. < accessed 16 July Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Ed. And Trans. Lewis A. Coser. Chicago : U of Chicago P, Hesiod. Theogony. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, International Theological Commission. Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. December < accessed 18 July Leech, Patrick. The Language of War. Remembering the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings. < Leech, Patrick, ed. Remembering the Troubles. < Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon P, Margalit, Avisham. The Ethics of Memory. Cambridge: Harvard UP, McArdle, John. Where Was I When? Conlon Mullan, Don. The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings. Dublin: Wolfhound, Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Use and Abuse of History. Trans. Adrian Collins. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, O Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Penguin, Ozick, Cynthia. Rosa. The Shawl. New York: Vintage, Pagis, Dan. Drafts for a Reparations Agreement. Against Forgetting: Twentieth-century Poetry of Witness. Ed. Carolyn Forché. N.Y.: Norton, Rich, Adrienne. Resisting Amnesia: History and Personal Life. Blood, Bread, and Poetry. Selected Prose London: Virago, Rich, Adrienne. Transcendental Etude. The Dream of a Common Language. Poems New York: Norton, Ricoeur, Paul. La memoria, la storia, l oblio. Trans. Daniella Iannotta. Milano: Raffaello Cortina, Siebert, Hannes. Healing the Memory. CCR 6.3&4 (Dec. 1997). < accessed 22 July Theoi Project. A Guide to Greek Gods, Spirits and Monsters. < accessed 11 March Weinrich, Harald. Lethe. The Art and Critique of Forgetting. Ithaca: Cornell UP, Yates, Frances A. The Art of Memory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, NOTE [1] Cf. Baccolini, Finding Utopia in Dystopia. [2] Part of the argument on forgiveness and reconciliation builds on my discussion of these themes in A useful knowledge, esp and [3] To give a sense of the popularity of the acts of (more or less) contrition, we have recently witnessed a plethora of apologies: Queen Elizabeth to the Maori; former French Premier Lionel Jospin on the execution of French deserters during WWI; former Italian Premier Massimo D Alema on Italian colonialism in Libya; Japanese Premier Keizo Obuchi to Dutch living in Indonesia during WWII; Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to Jews about the 1941 killings; former President Bill Clinton to many groups; South Africa s former President F.W. de Klerk to victims of apartheid; German President Johannes Rau about the Nazi killings in Marzabotto (Italy); the requests for reconciliation between Italian fascists and Resistance members; the project Apology Australia; as well as more problematic acts of contrition on the part of the Catholic Church regarding Giordano Bruno, the Crusaders, and sexual abuses. [4] Instead, the Commission has been established in order to wrestle with the past, remember it, and move forward. As Father Michael Lapsley says, there is no evidence in the history of the world that societies were able to successfully bury their past. Evidence shows that what they ve attempted to bury came back to haunt them (Siebert on line). [5] See, for example, the Church s crusades against new groups like gays and lesbians or the ongoing racist and xenophobic incidents against citizens of Asian descent in the summer 2001 in England. Likewise, contrition on the part of the

8 8 di 8 09/06/ Church for the persecution of Bruno or for its members behavior during the Crusades seem to bear little relevance to present-day life. [6] See, for instance, the I m Sorry T-shirt and the Sorry Song CD currently on sale in Australia ( Apology Australia Project on line). Some of these issues have been discussed by Jack E. White with regard to the issue of slavery. He claims that Without some form of reparations, apologizing for a historical wrong is an empty gesture (on line). [7] Of all the recent requests for forgiveness, the Roman Catholic Church s document, Memory and Reconciliation, issued on the occasion of the Jubilee, provides, I think, an interesting example of forgiveness that leads to forgetting. The document is certainly unparalleled: in the history of the Church there are no precedents for requests for forgiveness by the Magisterium for past wrongs (International Theological Commission, 1.1 on line). Yet, because of its language and argumentation, Rome s apology remains puzzling and problematic. The document, in fact, makes a distinction between the Church, which is always holy and immaculate and therefore never wrong, and individual Catholics, who can and do make mistakes (1.2). It also argues that sin is... always personal, which means that today Catholics cannot be blamed for errors of the past, and, even more, that the Church is not responsible for personal sins (1.3). Moreover, in every form of repentance and in specific gestures connected with it, the Church addresses herself in the first place to God and not to actual victims (Conclusion), so that the purpose of the document is not to examine particular historical cases but rather to clarify the presuppositions that ground repentance for past faults (Introduction). Finally, in calling for the purification of memory... [that] aims at liberating personal and communal conscience from all forms of resentment and violence that are the legacy of past faults, the document claims that [t]his should lead to a corresponding recognition of guilt and contribute to the path of reconciliation (Introduction). But the very use of the term purification seems to imply forgetfulness i.e., once the sin is atoned for, the memory of it is purified or cleared, and no trace of it is left. Therefore, the document, although unprecedented, makes apology a rather vague, if not outright ambiguous, and difficult process (Baccolini, A useful knowledge ). [8] Cf. Leech, Remembering the Troubles.

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