Forgetting: Myths, Perils and Compensations by Douwe Draaisma (Translated by Liz Waters) - review by Charles Fernyhough

Charles Fernyhough

Lest We Remember

Forgetting: Myths, Perils and Compensations


Yale University Press 276pp £18.99

Bucked from his half-broken horse in Jorge Luis Borges’s famous short story ‘Funes the Memorious’, Ireneo Funes suffers a head injury that leaves him pathologically unable to forget. ‘He knew the forms of the clouds in the southern sky on the morning of April 30, 1882, and he could compare them in his memory with the veins in the marbled binding of a book he had seen only once, or with the feathers of spray lifted by an oar on the Río Negro on the eve of the Battle of Quebracho.’ The damaged hero complains that his memory is ‘like a garbage heap’. He cannot sift the valuable lessons of his experience from the repetitive junk. 

Memory is often celebrated as a commodity of unquestionable value. Make it bigger, make it better; buy this book to help you avoid those embarrassing or costly failures to recall. But what protects us from the crippling over-knowing that afflicted the fictional Funes? In a real-life counterpart to Borges’s story,

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