Giorgio Agamben-The Unforgettable
The following essay is taken from Agamben’s commentary “The Time That Remains” on the Pauline text “Letter to the Romans”

吉奥吉阿 阿冈本:难忘者
The Unforgettable
I imagine Benjamin had something like this in mind when, referring to the life of the idiot, he spoke of the exigency to remain unforgettable. This does not simply mean that something forgotten should now reappear in our memory and be remembered.


Exigency does not properly concern that which has not been remembered; it concerns that which remains unforgettable. It refers to all in individual or collective life that is forgotten with each instant and to the infinite mass that will be forgotten by both.


Despite the efforts of historians, scribes, and all sorts of archivists, the quantity of what is irretrievably lost in the history of society and in the history of individuals is infinitely greater than what can be stored in the archives of memory.

In every instant, the measure of forgetting and ruin, the ontological squandering that we bear within ourselves far exceeds the piety of our memories and consciences.


But the shapeless chaos of the forgotten is neither inert nor ineffective. To the contrary, it is at work within us with a force equal to that of the mass of conscious memories, but in a different way. Forgetting has a force and a way of operating that cannot be measured in the same terms as those of conscious memory, nor can it be accumulated like knowledge. Its persistence determines the status of all knowledge and understanding. The exigency of the lost does not entail being remembered and commemorated; rather, it entails remaining in us and with us as forgotten, and in this way and only in this way, remaining unforgettable.


From this stems the inadequacy in trying to restore to memory what is forgotten by inscribing it in the archives and monuments of history, or in trying to construct another tradition and history, of the oppressed and the defeated. While their history may be written with different tools than that of the dominant classes, it will never substantially differ from it. In trying to work against this confusion, one should remember that the tradition of the unforgettable is not exactly a tradition.


It is what marks traditions with either the seal of infamy or glory, sometimes both. That which makes each history historical and each tradition transmissible is the unforgettable nucleus that both bear within themselves at their core.


The alternatives at this juncture are therefore not to forget or remember, to be unaware or become conscious, but rather, the determining factor is the capacity to remain faithful to that which having perpetually been forgotten, must remain unforgettable. It demands [esigel to remain with us and be possible for us in some manner. To respond to this exigency is the only historical responsibility I feel capable of assuming fully.


If, however, we refuse to respond, and if, on both the collective and individual levels, we forgo each and every relation to the mass of the forgotten that accompanies us like a silent golem, then it will reappear with- in us in a destructive and perverse way, in the form Freud called the return of the repressed, that is, as the return of the impossible as such.



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