Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia by Francis O'Gorman
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|Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia by Francis O'Gorman|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Provocative, approachable and important: a book for our times.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: October 2017|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic|
|External links: Author's website|
After a glut of books about mindfulness it came as something of a relief to encounter Forgetfulness, Francis O'Gorman's thinking on why the twenty-first century is losing touch with the past, on why what is likely - or could be made - to happen is so much more important than what has gone before. The book is supremely intelligent, but with the knowledge worn lightly and it's eminently readable, regardless of how you feel about the conclusions he draws.
O'Gorman argues that memory is essentially about 'selecting', an idea he demonstrates by reference to a 'first memory'. It is, of course, nothing of the sort as the brain has stored huge amounts of previous experience but we remember a specific scene because it provides a snapshot with particular meaning about our lives. (My own first memory is of being shown how to sew a button onto a scarf - a ridiculously futile task if ever there was one.) It is, of course, possible that 'first memories' are pure inventions or that they change with time. But the book isn't about personal memories but rather about how groups, communities and societies fail to remember, about how we relate to our communal yesterdays.
It's not a book of nostalgia. O'Gorman doesn't worship history but rather demands that we examine it critically and learn from it. He's not of the view that 'things were always better in the past' (although I did detect a note of wistfulness when he spoke of William Morris and John Ruskin) and nor does he completely disregard the idea that sometimes for the sake of moving on we need to, if not forget about the past, then certainly we need to forgive it. He argues that there is a relationship between, on the one side, human pleasure, wisdom, identity and security, and, on the other, what we know of the best and most interesting parts of the past. I take issue with his reference to 'the best and most interesting parts of our past': sometimes it's the worst which needs never to be forgotten if we are not to repeat our mistakes. Forgetfulness is about the way that society as a whole has determined how we will see history and it's based not on fact but on what is commercially sound and economically viable. We've moved too from learning from the past to disregarding it and worrying about the future. Where we used to remember, we now hope.
His thoughts are wide-ranging and deeply important particularly at a time when we face immense problems with regard to globalisation and migration. He ranges from ancient Greece to modern-day actions and attitudes. He's provocative, deliberately so, on occasions, I felt, but your mind is going to be pushed into corners long left unvisited. It's a book to be savoured and considered and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
We were also impressed by Francis O'Gorman's Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia by Francis O'Gorman at Amazon.com.
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