III., Forgetfulness

IIIa., Definitions of Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness is precarious. If we forget too much or too little, forgetfulness can be symptomatic of illness, e.g., Dementia, Ganser syndrome (Dalfen & Feinstein 2000), and Savant syndrome (Markowitsch 1992). But forgetfulness also makes us more adaptive and flexible to our immediate environment, i.e., “sound” forgetting, e.g., habituation, socially-induced forgetting, and directed forgetting (Izquierdo 2015).

Initially, in the beginning of our project, we sought to find forgetfulness in itself, which proved to be a misconception. Forgetfulness does not exist in itself, rather, it is always of something. It can be present in the positive, yet it is always constituted in the negative. For example, I can forget an initial memory by way of practicing a similar memory recall at the expense of the initial memory, i.e., retrieval-induced forgetting (Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork 1994; Anderson 2005).

Having read neurological, psychological, and philosophical research on forgetfulness, I grappled with how I could analyse and locate the forgetfulness in our research method of playing, letting time pass, and replaying from memory. One and half year into the project, I realised to what extent locating the forgetfulness within our research method depended on the definition used. On the one hand, if I took forgetfulness to mean the inability, unavailability, and inhibition of retrieving a memory, i.e., implying an encoded memory in order for forgetting to take place, then the act of playing music may entail a mode of consciousness not apt with articulating distinctions between forgetfulness and memory according to rigid scientific definitions, i.e., short-term and working memory seem inapt with analytic language-use [semantics] and temporality [objectivity presupposing a position outside of time].[1]

On the other hand, if I took forgetfulness to mean a free moving in time, i.e., implying a forgetting of the present, then forgetfulness seemed to be ubiquitous and intrinsic to not just the music-making within our research method but to everything we do, which I was completely unaware of prior to working on this project.

[1] I here mean that performative acts, e.g., playing musical improvisation, are inapt to be accounted for by, e.g., truth-conditional semantics because of their deviant nature qua linguistic content, e.g., metaphorical “content” (Larsson 2020: 51-58). Furthermore, performative acts are difficult to determine in terms of linguistic meaning because of the uncertainty of the semantic intentions of the performer and their entailing status in determining the overarching context monitoring the linguistic interpretive act by the public. Thereby, interpretive paradigms, e.g., conversational (Carroll 1992); semiotic (López Cano 2006); socially-situated (Lewis 2019), may be useful yet dependent on unreliable contextual factors (Entzenberg 2005).

I then, by chance, met two friends who live abroad, to have drinks and chat, and when I told them of the research I was doing, my friend mentioned that she currently read a book called Oblivion by the French ethnologist Marc Augé (2008). I wrote his name down and ordered the book the next day. I also read related works of his, e.g., Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity (2009).

As we will see in the next chapter, IIIb., Three Gestures of Forgetfulness, it turned out that my chance encounter with friends presented me with a less rigid, but clear and useful definition of forgetfulness, which was precisely what I needed to further articulate my thoughts on our method and to locate the forgetting within it.

In contemporary civilization where everything is standardized and where everything is repeated, the whole point is to forget in the space between an object and its duplication. If we didn't have this power of forgetfulness, if art today didn't help us to forget, we would be submerged, drowned under those avalanches of rigorously identical objects (For the Birds, 1981).  -John Cage