Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: Histories and Prostheses

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Histories and Prostheses

I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me yet. In the wee hours of yesterday morning, after the cat had started her autumn routine of waking me up at 5 am for food, I knew (with the certainty that one knows things in the early morning) what my next book of poems would be.

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Had I continued my graduate education, I would have written my dissertation on cultural representations of memory in contemporary African literature and art. I was interested in instances in which we need to represent—even construct from time to time—collective memories. It seemed to me that, at times, we focus these collective memories on the experiences of individuals, rather than groups. So, the memorializing that happens around, say, the horrors of Apartheid, gets represented in individual testimony (Sue Williamson's Can't Remember, Can't Forget), descriptions of torture (as in JM Coetzee's novels), etc.

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Sue Williamson. Can't Remember Can't Forget (installation view).

Perhaps it's not surprising, given my academic inclinations, that the poetry I tend to most enjoy reading is poetry that investigates individual histories. I'm thinking here of Natasha Trethewey, Marilyn Nelson, Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney (at times), Elizabeth Alexander, et al.

When histories get reoriented to be primarily about an individual (rather than a group, or nation, or culture, for instance), they lose some of their facticity, they start treading close to that most unreliable of faculties, Memory. Histories, conventionally, are meant to be fairly solid claims about things and places and events and people. Again, conventionally, there's meant to be some degree of objectivity to it all. Memories, on the other hand, are radically subjective, shifting, fluid cognitive representations of things.

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Poetry is another one of those unreliably subjective things. When history, then, finds its way into poetry, the polar relationship between the subjective and objective begins to crumble. That kind of crisis of polarity interests me. As I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that poetry can serve as this prosthesis for memory, whether they're individual or collective memories (hence the abundance of memorializing poetry).

The new book will be a collection of poems that perform that function: poems that have a prosthetic relationship to memory, both collective and personal.

I'm really excited about it.

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Wall of prosthetic faces for injured veterans of World War I.

1 comment:

Meghan Maguire Dahn said...

forget, v.

( f{schwa}{sm}g{ope}t ) Pa. tense forgot ( -{sm}g{rfa}t ), arch. forgat ( -{sm}gæt ). Pa. pple. forgotten, arch. and poet., forgot ( -{sm}g{rfa}t ({schwa} )n, -{sm}g{rfa}t ). For forms see GET. [OE. for{asg}ietan str. vb. ( for{asg}eat , -{asg}éatun , -{asg}iten ) corresponding to OS. far-getan (Du. vergeten), OHG. farge{hgz}an (MHG. verge{hgz}{hgz}en , Ger. vergessen); f. OTeut. *getan (see GET v.) in the sense ‘to hold, grasp’, the force of the prefix being that illustrated under FOR- prefix1 3. The etymological sense is thus ‘to miss or lose one's hold’; but the physical application is not recorded in any Teut. lang.]

1. trans. To lose remembrance of; to cease to retain in one's memory. {dag}Formerly sometimes with out. Often with clause as obj. Also colloq. in admonitory phrases. Phr. forget it: take no more notice of it, don't mention it.
c888 K. ÆLFRED Boeth. xlii, Næfre nauht he ne forgeat. c1050 Byrhtferth's Handboc in Anglia (1885) VIII. 326 {Th}æt {th}u neforgyte {th}æt ic {th}e nu secge. a1200 Moral Ode 98 Nabbe{edh} hie no {th}ing for{ygh}ieten of {th}at hie her iseien. c1300 Beket 1956 Here names for here schrewede ne beoth no{ygh}t for{ygh}ute ut [MS. Laud 108 nout for{ygh}ite {ygh}uyt] . 1375 BARBOUR Bruce I. 16 Swa that na lenth of tyme it let Na ger it haly be for{ygh}et . 1525 LD. BERNERS Froiss. II. lxii. [lxv.] 210 That I sholde forgete out ony thynge that I have knowen to be done. c1540 Howers of Blessed Virgin E. & L. 104 They shall Be registred so, they shall not be forgetten. c1676 LADY CHAWORTH in 12th Rep Hist. MSS. Com. App. v. 34 The D. of Monmouth Mr. Griffin and Mr. Godolphin and a fourth whose name I have forgot. 1757 WESLEY Wks. (1872) IX. 279 Have you forgot that every man is now born in as good a state as Adam was made at first? 1845 S. AUSTIN Ranke's Hist. Ref. I. 387 Frederic..did not forget his numerous wrongs and affronts. 1874 GREEN Short Hist. i. §I. 5 Men forgot how to fight for their Country when they forgot how to govern it. 1888 Detroit Free Press 6 Oct. (Farmer Amer.), You don't want to fool with those Quakers any, and don't you forget it. 1890 R. K. FOX Slang Dict. N.Y. 48 ‘And don't you forget it’ [and other slang expressions] are all, or nearly all, Californianisms. 1903 R. L. MCCARDELL Conversat. Chorus Girl 91, I gave him the laugh, and said, ‘Forget it!’ 1909 E. C. HALL Aunt Jane of Kentucky ii. 32 He was the Rev. Lemuel Page, and don't you forgit it. 1915 Let. in C. Mackenzie My Life & Times (1966) V. 13 The next bloody army I join is the Salvation bloody army and don't you forget it. 1930 R. MACAULAY Staying with Relations xx. 302 Well, then, forget it... I sure don't want to wait any more. 1932 [see AW int.]. 1951 ‘A. GARVE’ Murder in Moscow xxii. 181 ‘By the way, Jeff{em}thanks !’ ‘Forget it.’ 1960 ‘W. HAGGARD’ Closed Circuit ix. 111 ‘I hope I'm not interrupting you...’ ‘Forget it.’ 1970 W. SMITH Gold Mine xxxi. 78 She was genuinely puzzled by the question... ‘What's he got to do with it?’ ‘All right, forget it.’
Prov. c1530 R. HILLES Common-pl. Bk. (1858) 140 Seld sene sone forgotyn.

b. To fail to recall to mind; not to recollect.
1787 ‘GAMBADO’ Acad. Horsemen (1809) 28 He says much the same of rabbits and onions, but I forgot [? read forget] how he brings that to bear. 1847 MARRYAT Childr. N. Forest xv, I forget the sign [of the inn].

c. const. to a person = as a matter of reproach against him. rare.
1822 T. MOORE Diary 31 Jan., The thing has never been forgotten to Etienne since.

d. absol. (or intr.) Also, to forget about: not to recall the facts concerning; not to remember to take action in the matter of (colloq.).
1382 WYCLIF Isa. xliv. 18 Thei for{ygh}eeten , lest ther e{ygh}en see{ygh}en , and lest thei vnderstoden in ther herte. c1435 Torr. Portugal 824 The kyng wold not foreget. 1592 SHAKES. Rom. & Jul. I. i. 243 Farewell thou can'st not teach me to forget. 1611 BIBLE Ps. x. 11 Hee hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten. a1839 PRAED Poems (1864) I. 363 He'll learn..To feign and to forget. 18.. TENNYSON Flight i, Are you sleeping? have you forgotten? 1897 N. GOULD Seeing him Through xix, He had forgotten about that, it was such a long time ago. a1915 R. BROOKE Mem. in Coll. Poems (1918) p. xxv, I often wonder whether I haven't written several of them myself under a pseudonym, and forgotten about it.

2. To omit or neglect through inadvertence. Chiefly with inf. as obj. In poetry sometimes fig. of natural agents, etc.
c950 Lindisf. Gosp. Mark x. 21 An {edh}e is forgeten. c1000 Ags. Gosp. Matt. xvi. 5 Hi{asg} forgeton {th}æt hi{asg} hlafas namon. a1300 Cursor M. 1730 (Cott.) {Th}e folk to preche for-gate he noght. c1386 CHAUCER Prioress' T. 59 This widwe hir litel sone y-taught Our blisful lady..To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught. c1420 Sir Amadace (Camden) xxviii, To sadulle his horse was no{ygh}te for{ygh}etun . 1548 HALL Chron., Edw. IV (an. 10) 216 God dyd neither forgeve nor forget to punishe the duke. 1697 W. DAMPIER Voy. I. xvi. 444, I quite forgot to put it into my Journal. 1710 POPE Windsor For. 353 The winds forget to roar. 1718 ROWE tr. Lucan IX. 1389 Straight His Blood forgot to flow, his Heart to beat. 1842 TENNYSON Gardener's Dau. 85 The steer forgot to graze.

b. To omit to take, leave behind inadvertently.
a1300 Cursor M. 1690 (Cott.) Fouxul ne worme forget {th}ou noght. Ibid. 3163 (Cott) Suerd and fire forgat he noght. 1535 COVERDALE Deut. xxiv. 19 Whan thou hast reaped downe thine haruest in the felde, and hast forgotten a shefe in the felde. 1596 SHAKES. 1 Hen. IV, III. i. 6 Hotsp. A plague vpon it, I haue forgot the Mappe. Glend. No, here it is. 1768 GOLDSM. Good-n. Man IV. i, I had almost forgot the wedding ring! 1860 TYNDALL Glac. I. xi. 72 We had no candles, they had been forgotten.

{dag}c. with complementary adj. or adv. Obs.
a1340 HAMPOLE Psalter vi. 6 {Th}at nane be forgetyn vnpunyst. c1400 Three Kings Cologne (1886) 127 {Th}es {th}inges oure lady forgat bihynde hir whan sche {ygh}ede oute of {th}at plaas in to Egypte. 1513 DOUGLAS Æneis XI. xvi. 69 Hys feris all hes hym for{ygh}et allane.

d. To omit to mention, leave unnoticed, pass over inadvertently.
1538 ELYOT, Prætermitto, to leue vntouched, to forgete, to leue oute. 1548 HALL Chron., Hen. V (an. 3) 49b, I may not forget how the Frenche men..sent a herault. 1625 BACON Ess., Cunning (Arb.) 439 He would pass ouer that, that he intended most, and goe forth, and come backe againe, and speake of it, as of a Thing, that he had almost forgot. 1674 tr. Scheffer's Lapland 93, I had almost forgot Tobacco, of which they are very great admirers. 1775 S. J. PRATT Liberal Opin. (1783) III. 187 Pray don't forget me to your uncle. 1881 FREEMAN Subj. Venice 166 Not forgetting a gate which has been made out in the long walls.

3. To cease or omit to think of, let slip out of the mind, leave out of sight, take no note of.
c1000 Ags. Ps. (Th.) xii. 1 Hu lange wilt {th}u , Drihten, min forgitan. c1200 Vices & Virtues (1888) 7 Hie for{ygh}ite{edh} to swi{edh}e hem seluen wi{edh}-innen . a1300 Floriz & Bl. 497 (Camb. MS.) Ne schal ihc neure for{ygh}ete {th}e . a1300 Cursor M. 20208 (Cott.) O {th}at bode forgat scho noght. 1382 WYCLIF Ps. cxviii[i]. 176 Thin hestis I haue not for{ygh}eten . c1450 Bk. Curtasye 196 in Babees Bk. 305 {Th}ou schalle neuer lose for to be kynde; That on for{ygh}etis ano{th}er hase in mynde. 1593 SHAKES. 3 Hen. VI, IV. vii. 45. 1651 ISAACKSON in Fuller's Abel Rediv., Andrewes (1867) II. 168 He forgat not his patron, Dr. Watts, at his end. 1717 POPE Eloisa 208 The world forgetting, by the world forgot. 1797 NELSON Aug. in Nicolas Disp. (1845) II. 437, I shall not be surprised to be neglected and forgot, as probably I shall no longer be considered as useful. 1888 M. E. BRADDON Fatal Three I. v. Are you forgetting luncheon?

b. used in connexion with forgive; also absol. passing into proverb.
a1225 Ancr. R. 124 Al {th}et hurt & al {th}et sore were uor{ygh}iten & for{ygh}iuen uor glednesse. 1421-2 HOCCLEVE Dialogus 672 Mochil thyng haast thow write, That they nat foryeue haue, ne foryite. 1576 FLEMING Panopl. Epist. 380 Hee did both forgive and forgett offences committed against his majestie. 1621 H. ELSING Debates Ho. Lords (Camden) 74, I am sorry for it: I praye forgive and forgett. 1775 SHERIDAN Rivals IV. ii, Come, come, Mrs. Malaprop, we must forget and forgive. 1841 TRENCH Parables xxiv. (1877) 411 Though God may forgive, man is not therefore to forget.

{dag}c. To drop the practice of (a duty, virtue, etc.); to lose the use of (one's senses). to forget to do = to forget how to do (something). Obs.
13.. E.E. Allit. P. B. 203 He for{ygh}et alle his fre {th}ewes , And wex wod to {th}e wrache. c1385 CHAUCER L.G.W. 1752 Lucrece, Desire That in his herte brent as any fire So wodely that hys witte was foryeten. 1390 GOWER Conf. II. 20 So clene his wittes he foryete. 1590 SHAKES. Com. Err. III. ii. 1 And may it be that you haue quite forgot A husbands office? 1592 {emem} Ven. & Ad. 1061 Her joints forget to bow. 1670 MILTON Hist. Eng. II. 36 The terrour of such new and resolute opposition made them forget thir wonted valour.

4. In stronger sense: To neglect wilfully, take no thought of, disregard, overlook, slight.
1297 R. GLOUC. (1724) 445 He ver{ygh}et al {th}e strong o{th} , {th}at he adde byuore To emperesse. 1340 HAMPOLE Pr. Consc. 2051 Whiles {th}ai lyf {th}ai have na mynde Of God, bot forgettes hym. c1380 WYCLIF Serm. Sel. Wks. I. 201 {Th}is lore is for{ygh}ete and {th}e fendis lore take. a1400-50 Alexander 3276 The gome {th}at hys god forgatt. 1571 BUCHANAN Ane Admonition Wks. (1892) 21 It may seame..that I.. for{ygh}ettis my devoir. a1703 BURKITT On N.T. Jas. ii. 5 Men wallow in wealth, and forget God. 1797 MRS. RADCLIFFE Italian ii, Why should I be in danger of forgetting what is due to my father?

5. to forget oneself. a. To omit care for oneself. b. To lose remembrance of one's own station, position, or character; to lose sight of the requirements of dignity, propriety, or decorum; to behave unbecomingly. {dag}c. To lose one's way. d. To lose consciousness.
a. a1200 Moral Ode 25 {Th}e {th}e him selfe for{ygh}eit for wiue o{edh}er for childe He sal cumen on euel stede. a1225 Leg. Kath. 1377 Feire is us ifallen: ah {ygh}et we for{ygh}eote{edh} us.
b. 1593 SHAKES. Rich. II, III. ii. 83 Aum. Comfort, my liege; remember who you are. K. Rich. I had forgot myself: am I not king? a1627 MIDDLETON & ROWLEY Changeling III. iv, Push! you forget yourself; A woman dipp'd in blood, and talk of modesty! 1697 COLLIER Immor. Stage i. 4 Jacinta, Elvira, Dalinda..forget themselves extreamly: And almost all the Characters..are foul and nauseous. 1794 NELSON 29 July in Nicolas Disp. (1845) I. 462 These Agents forget themselves very much. 1856 READE Never too late xi, How is he to answer my question if he holds his tongue? you forget yourself. 1891 19th Cent. Dec. 856 When any speaker so far forgot himself as [etc.].
c. 1582 N. LICHEFIELD tr. Castanheda's Conq. E. Ind. xl. 93b, The Captaine Generall..founde..missing one of his greate Shippes, in the which went Sancho..vnto whome it did well appeare, by reason it was night, that he had forgotten himselfe.
d. 1390 GOWER Conf. II. 21, I myself foryete, That I wot never, what I am, Ne whider I shall, ne whenne I cam. c1430 Syr. Gener. (Roxb.) 7561 Hir self she forgute, With~out spech stil she sute. 1717 POPE Eloisa 24 Though cold like you, unmov'd and silent grown, I have not yet forgot myself to stone. Mod. I was nearly asleep, I had just forgotten myself.

Hence for{sm}getter , one who forgets.
1398 TREVISA Barth. De P.R. XII. vii. (1495) 417 The coluoure is..foryeter of wronges. c1440 Promp. Parv. 174/1 For{ygh}etare [v.r. forgeter], immemor. 1613 BEAUM. & FL. Captain IV. iii, I think her A strange forgetter of herself. 1755 JOHNSON, Forgetter, a careless person. 1826 LAMB Elia Ser. II. Pop. Fallacies, We are careless as that Imperial forgetter of his dreams. 1869 SPURGEON Treas. Dav. Ps. ix. 17 Forgetters of God.