I reviewed Gabriel Josipovici's latest book Forgetting for The New Criterion:
Towards the beginning of the British author Gabriel Josipovici’s latest book,Forgetting, he quotes Samuel Beckett commenting on the work of Proust: “Only he who remembers forgets.” A typically pithy statement from a master of the laconic, but what does it mean? On one level, it appears to be literally true. One can’t remember something without first forgetting it, in the same way that an object must first be lost in order to be found. But Beckett also seems to be suggesting something more profound. There are two types of memory at work in Proust. There is our “memory of facts and figures,” writes Josipovici, which can be retrieved with more or less conscious effort, and then there is the involuntary memory “which [lies] dormant for long periods but which may be activated at any time by a sound, a taste, an unexpected movement.” It’s a memory mysteriously “lodged” in our bodies, seemingly forgotten by our conscious minds. Until, in an instant, it’s recovered without us having been quite aware of its loss in the first place. And so the past is suddenly resurrected within us, with more clarity and vigor than the original experience. The recollection of “facts and figures,” by contrast, tends to obscure such lucid awareness. Hence, “only he who remembers forgets.”
One problem, though: Beckett never actually wrote those words. As Josipovici clarifies in footnotes: “At least that’s how I remembered it. On checking, I have found only this: ‘The man with a good memory does not remember anything because he does not forget anything.’” Gnomic, to be sure, but it doesn’t have quite the punch of Josipovici’s misquote. This innocent mistake typifies the entire book: a half-remembered quote about the nature of memory, which, by virtue of being half-forgotten, clarifies itself and moves toward the pith of the original. Forgetting is about this double movement of memory, of simultaneous recovery and loss, both social and personal.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor