I’m stretching the science end of things here to include some historical data. In chapter 8, Volf looks at the works of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Freud on the topic of forgetting. The chapter is interesting but I’m going to skip blogging on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and only make a small comment on Freud. Volf argues that Freud never saw forgetting as always having a deleterious impact on mental health. We know that Freud believed that bringing repressed memories to the surface so as to release pent up energy. But did you know that he also talked about removing or erasing memory? Volf recounts one of Freud’s cases (Emmy von N.) in Studies on Hysteria where he says the following:
…and I made it impossible for her to see any of these melancholy things again, and not only by wiping out her memories of them in their plastic form, but by removing her whole recollection of them, as though they have never been present in her mind. (Volf, p154).
How did he do it you ask? Hypnosis. Later when he abandoned hypnosis, he talked about the fading of memories through something called “effacement.” The idea is that when you “starve” memories by releasing/removing the affect given them, they fade into the misty past. This is not motivated forgetting in order to reduce distress, but the reduction of distress that causes memories to fade.
Makes sense. I forget things every day that have no meaning to me. But nearly hit me on my way to work with your massive SUV and I’ll remember it well. However, since most days I don’t have near misses, I’ll begin to forget…
All well and good, but if the abuse or wrongs suffered are so big or at such a critical time in life, can I ever really forget? Its certainly a lot easier to forget and go back to a “normal” time but much harder to do so if there never was a “normal” time.