A Primer for Forgetting: A Visit with Lewis Hyde
A conversation with Lewis Hyde where we investigate forgetting as a personal force for change.
To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.
~ Eihei Dogen, Genjo Koan
Lewis Hyde, in his A Primer for Forgetting; Getting Past the Past, sees the above passage by Dogen as “a key point of departure for the book. Where is your practice? Is it just sitting on the cushion, or is it your whole life?” Forgetting, Hyde believes, is fundamental to healing, of the self, the culture, and the nation.
What the soul already knows. Born into this life, those who seek to recover their lost wisdom need to find a teacher whose task is not to directly teach ideals but rather to remind the student of what the soul already knows. “What we call learning is really just recollection,” says Socrates to Phaedo. It’s anamnesis, or unforgetting, the discovering of things hidden in the mind.
The empty studio. Said John Cage to Philip Guston, “When you start working, everyone is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—are all there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”
The Lotus Eaters. My comrades…mingled with the lotus eaters…and whoever of them ate the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus no longer wished to return home, but there they wish to remain…feeding on the lotus and forgetting their homecoming.(Odyssey 9.82-97).
“Apologists for the Lotus Eaters always insist that the lotus made them forget about their journey home. It does that, but we prefer to say that the lotus helped them come into the present moment. They stopped having flashbacks to the war, they stopped daydreaming about a town they hadn’t seen for years, and they noticed what was going on right then, right there.”
How does a nation forget? The 1964 murders of the black youths Charles Moore and Henry Dee in Mississippi. The Sand Creek Massacre of 150 mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children by the U.S. Army in 1864. The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” writes Milan Kundera…[Hyde:] I say the struggle against power is the struggle against the memory of difference.
For comfort when I milk the goat
I lean my forehead on her side.
From there by the barn I can see down
Through the sinking evening air
To the pond
Where the sunset has brought
Trails of haze up from the water.
That’s a form of love: drops of water floating
In breath, the goat’s or mine,
or the steam from her hot milk in the dish.
~ Lewis Hyde, This Error is the Sign of Love