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. The unforgettable is “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”. The unforgettable remains different from memory and in a different manner than conscious memory operates, but also the notion of the unconscious might suggest. Agamben’s notion brings forth the question of translation. Never produces “a body of work”. I just want to stress that I think the futility of archiving in this notion of the unforgettable as a positive value cannot be underestimated and is therefore problematic to discuss "an archive" or "what to do with data". What about an archive to which you do not know the codes or systematics? Not the “restoration of some sort of original text, or the mourning of its disappearance or about nostalgia for a lost story (...). In my opinion, these letters mean something completely different.” Somehow, it means that we expend much more of our energy trying to manage memories, records, files, but we have forgotten that this massive collection of the forgotten is still somewhere, repressed, collective or individual. Thus, what remains and cannot be remembered demands a different kind of respond – to this mass of the forgotten, that remains unforgettable. The forgotten is in a state of chaos, not indexed, inaccessible in a voluntary manner. Thousands of lines are written about, how to archive, but not so many about the forgotten. Departing from the mass of the forgotten, not in order to restore it, but to ask, how to respond to this mass, to ask for a new literacy and other forms of translations? 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”. Therefore in a common chat the question of "what is the calling" is important. Why "dwell in it", that's, what I perceive in this text as both making a discussion about archiving more than productive while at the same time rendering the concrete question of "how to archive" eventually inessential probably. How would you start writing about the forgotten, responding, taking in account, in such a way that is different from the means of archiving? How so without archiving? Which effect on the other hand has the archive on that, what is archived, what is that meant to remembered inscribed to? What is the potential of the unforgettable and what its relation to memory, archives? What happens to that, what becomes a matter of our memory, thus is also always already forgotten, precisely in being transformed into something that can be memorised? What is lost, when it’s being archived, as opposed to what is preserved, when it’s "forgotten"? Basically an archive controls how and when you have contact with records and memories, but there is an in between, which is always there, but you cannot control how and when. It is maybe a kind of discourse in between the lines, something that is being transmitted or transported via other things. Could the work of translation be such a space in between? Something in between archiving and not archiving? What about the difference between that, what is countable, and that, what is uncountable? To remember, that means to select and thus to render something as forgotten. Not, that this is simply one's own choice. Both terms would be the fold of the same act, so to speak. How then would another mode of forgetting, a different practice of forgetting reshape the act of remembering itself? Do you simply mean that by remembering (in the act of power) you declare or make something else forgotten? Language as such, the word as such makes, the world (the objects) disappear, as, for instance, the object "tree" with all it's properties and qualities is reduced to something, which is replacing the real object "tree" to a trace, the word. What marks traditions, which makes each history historical and each tradition transmissible, that is, what remains unforgettable, but cannot be remembered as such – alike the word cannot be said as such. The experience of the Department of Reading would disappear, properties like time, pause, reaction, counter-reaction, alarm of the Skype-sound etc. Archiving is a way of writing, above all - what would it then mean to say first of all it’s a matter of reading, that, what is already there? What labour does an archive in its use suggest? It suggests a reader, the one, who actualises with her or his ability to read that, what has been stored, in its – or any – meaning. Is thus archiving as much as it seems to be a matter of writing, always already one of reading?
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 I agree, Agamben's text offers rather a distant entrance to the question of archiving - the more so as the notion of the unforgettable aims to address (if at all) that, "what can (not) 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 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 forget each and every relation to the mass of the forgotten that accompanies us like a silent golem, then it will reappear within 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.
What does all of this have to do with Paul? For Paul, the redemption of what has been is the place of an exigency for the messianic. This place does not involve a point of view from which we could see a world in which redemption had taken place. The coming of the Messiah means that all things, even the subjects who contemplate it, are caught up in the as not, called and revoked at one and the same time. No subject could watch it or act as if at a given point. The messianic vocation dislocates and, above all, nullifies the entire subject. This is the meaning of Galatians 2:20, "It is no longer I that live (zo ouketi ego), but the Messiah living in me." He lives in him precisely as the "no longer I," that dead body of sin we bear within ourselves which is given life through the spirit in the Messiah (Rom. 8:II). The whole of creation was subjected to caducity (mataiotes), the futility of what is lost and decays, but this is why it groans as it awaits redemption (Rom. 8:20-22). The thing in the spirit to correspond with this creature's continuously lost lament is not a well-formed discourse able to calculate and register loss, but "unspeakable groanings" (stenagmois alaletois) (Rom. 8:26). This is why the one who upholds faith in what is lost cannot believe in any identity or worldly klesis. The as not is by no means a fiction in the sense intended by Vaihinger or Forberg. It has nothing to do with an ideal. The assimilation to what has been lost and forgotten is absolute: "We are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things" (I Cor. 4:13). Pauline klesis is a theory of the interrelation between the messianic and the subject, a theory that settles its differences once and for all with presumed identities and ensuing properties. In this sense, that which is not (ta me onta) is stronger than that which is.
Karl Barth's thesis that there is no place for the as if in the messianic except when "hope is the Aufhebung of the as if" and that "we now truly see ... that which we nevertheless do not see" (Barth, 298), is substantially correct, even if it lags behind Pauline exigency. Just as Kafka intuited in his extraordinary parable on parables ("Von den Gleichnissen"), the messianic is the simultaneous abolition and realization of the as if and the subject wishing to indefinitely maintain himself in similitude (in the as if), while contemplating his ruin, simply loses the wager. He who upholds himself in the messianic vocation no longer knows the as if he no longer has similitudes at his disposal. He knows that in messianic time the saved world coincides with the world that is irretrievably lost, and that, to use Bonhoeffer's words, he must now really live in a world without God. This means that he may not disguise this world's being-without-God in any way. The saving God is the God who abandons him, and the fact of representations (the fact of the as if) cannot pretend to save the appearance of salvation. The messianic subject does not contemplate the world as though it were saved. In Benjamin's words, he contemplates salvation only to the extent that he loses himself in what cannot be saved; this is how difficult it is to dwell in the calling.

This essay is taken from Giorgio Agamben's commentary "The Time That Remains" on the Pauline text "Letter to the Romans"


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