Those Who Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It

Here’s Chris’s piece from our Greenbelt event this year:

Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ 

Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it. There is something inside each of us that is not interested in memory. It sparkles with something that we have called ‘life’. It cannot hope to make itself known – only felt. It is too much for anyone to hold. It pushes and pulses, stutters and starts. It rages and smiles, whimpers and moans, crackles and catapults, fizzes and frays. We find the edges of ourselves through hearing it speak, feeling it move, listening to it sing. It is waiting for an alphabet. Waiting for words. Waiting for stories.

Stories bind some of this intensity and allow it to make its way into the world. A good story is not interested in being remembered. It is interested in life. We don’t believe in stories. They take us somewhere. They hold us, make room for us, stretch us out, bend us inside out and outside in. They make and re-make our inside worlds and if they are good they allow more and more space for our desire to tell and to tell and to tell more stories. Stories create experiences that we can live. Live right to their limits until the experience is completely beyond use, until it has been used up, killed off by our desire and can thus make its way into history. The trace that is left by a good story is the desire to find new stories, new ways of telling the something that is inside. New ways of elaborating ourselves, telling ourselves.

But what if most of the time we are frightened? That what is inside us is too much? That it blurs us too much, that it asks too many questions that demand answers. That it makes us feel not free and alive but chaotic and diffuse.

What if at these times our memory becomes an emotional, theological, philosophical glue. What if the story called memory binds us up tightly and salves the chaos and confusion.

What if the story called memory creates more stories that comfort and control, sanitise and secure, operationalise and condition?

What if memory is just a cover story….a version of ourselves that is palatable and controllable? What if forgetting feels like an act of suicide to everything we hold dear?

Is it better to remember to forget or to forget to remember?

Isn’t it both? Isn’t it that the desiring, provisional, open self bursting with the thing called life is tempered by memory, remembering and ritual because without this we would not be able to sustain ourselves. Probably. But isn’t it just as true that memory is killing our future because we dare not disturb its fragile balance and risk falling out of our faiths into free fall?

Most of us are here tonight because of a story called ‘Belief’ which must not be forgotten. It weaves a powerful spell because it can hold inside itself without contradiction suicide bombing, misogyny, pro-life influenced murder and homophobia to name a few. It can become a form of remembering that protects us from the truth of our existence. A dead-end story that loops in on itself. Empty, dead words. Connected to nothing except itself. Story-less stories that burn those they touch and burn out those who live in them.

A story-less story cannot hold, metabolize and ultimately transform anything. Once the story is lost all one can do is comply to or reject what is now a belief. Remembering gives way to repetition. Our book of life, our book of stories now a prison of understanding.

Wilfred Bion, the great British psychoanalyst once gave the following advice to practitioners –

“discard your memory; discard the future sense of your desire. Forget both what you know and what you want in order to leave space for a new idea. A thought, an idea unclaimed, may be floating around the room searching for a home”

Don’t be afraid to forget. It is the only way to have something to remember. Do be afraid that the world might turn upside down and inside out because it might. The cracks that appear might be cracks in a cocoon.

Maybe consider doing your forgetting with other people. Maybe considering doing it with us here tonight. Read yourself between our lines, between IKON’s lines and IKON’s lies and find that place. You will know it. It is a place where your story is nothing and everything at the same time. It is a place where as you forget you are unwound and invigorated, pulled apart and together AND re-membered.

None of this is true.

It is completely true.

Look for us between the lines.

That’s where we want to be forgotten……………

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