Monday, July 20, 2009

I don’t remember …

I've been reworking a paper I co-authored a couple of years ago into section for a book. Essentially the argument that we’re forwarding is that an era of pervasive computing, in which data about our lives is collected and stored across our life time, needs to be accompanied by an ethics of forgetting. I won’t rehearse the argument here as the paper is online as a working paper and as a published paper, but I thought it was worth listing out the six forms of forgetting that Schacter (2001) identifies as they all make an appearance in crime fiction and I can imagine trying to put together a story that weaves them in and out of each other.

1. Transience (the loss of memory over time)
2. absent-mindedness (the loss of memory due to distractedness at the time the memory relates to)
3. blocking (the temporary inability to remember – ‘it’s on the tip of my tongue’).

4. misattribution (assigning a memory to the wrong source)
5. suggestibility (memories that are implanted either by accident or surreptitiously)
6. bias (the unknowing or unconscious editing or rewriting of experiences).

Schacter notes one other problem with memory – persistence, the recalling of events that would rather be forgotten.

Of course, forgetting should not always been seen in a negative light. As Nietzsche suggests, forgetting will save humans from history, because ‘forgetting turns out to be more benefit than bereavement, a mercy rather than malady … for no individual or collectivity can afford to remember everything’ (Lowenthal, 1999, xi). Forgetting allows people to be fallible, to evolve their social identities, to live with their conscience, to deal with ‘their demons’, to move on from their past and build new lives, to reconcile their own paradoxes and contradictions, and to be part of society. Forgetting enables forgiveness.

If anyone has any good recommendations for some crime fiction that explore various kinds of forgetting – beyond using them as simple plot devices - I’d be grateful to receive them.

Lowenthal D, 1999, “Preface” in Forty A, Küchler S, (eds) The Art of Forgetting (Berg, Oxford) xi - xiii
Schacter D L, 2001 The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston)


Peter Rozovsky said...

Howard Engel's Memory Book may satisfy your criteria.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Maxine said...

I just left a comment which got eaten! Can't reconstruct it all now, but just wanted to recommend The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr - my review: - a very dark journey into a woman's repressed and hidden memory which explains why she committed an apparently motiveless crime, which I loved. There is a very good review at Euro Crime by Fiona Walker which is what made me buy and read the book. I also recommend the very early Alex Delaware novels (much lighter thrillers, perfect holiday reading) by Jonathan Kellerman. Unfortunately these degenerated into formula after the first half-dozen (I remember reading the book in which this switch occurred) but the first few are excellent. The protag is a child psychologist so issues such as the nature of memory and forgetting are addressed.

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks for those recommendations, both sound interesting. I'll follow them up and take a read. Much appreciated.

Maxine said...

You're welcome. By the way, as your blog is so interesting I have added it to the Friend Feed crime and mystery room - so when you write a new post there will be a link there. Please do join us there if you wish -
I have also ordered a copy of The Rule Book from Amazon, as it looks very good.
all the best

Mack said...

Have you looked at Simone van der Vlugt 's The Reunion? I enjoyed it and think that the author handled memory and forgetting as more than mere plot device.

Rob Kitchin said...

Maxine, thanks for ordering. I hope it lives up to expectation! I've joined friendfeed and subscribed to crime-and-mystery fiction and will try and work out how it works.

Thanks, Mack for the suggestion. Will also follow that up. The other book I can think of is Tana French's In The Woods, where the detective can't remember what happened when he was a child and two of his friends disappear and then 20 odd years later he investigates a murder in the same woods they vanished from.

Maxine said...

Oh yes, I remember that book (In the Woods). In her second book the author also plays with memory but in a different way - mixed up with identities. So we have issues of memories when your identity is not your own (whether you are an undercover police person or pretending to be someone else) layered on top of forgetting by the "real" people concerned. I didn't enjoy the book all that much mainly because it was too long and had too much of a sense of foreboding which inevitably made the ending a letdown - but I enjoyed those "identity" aspects. Now what was it called? Oh yes, The Likeness.

I hope Friend Feed is reasonably easy and friendly, Rob - look forward to seeing you there sometime.

Rob Kitchin said...

I struggled a little with In the Woods. I just couldn't relate to the main character and it was too long. I know some people didn't like the end, but what I felt it really needed was at least 100 pages removing to tighten it up.

I haven't yet worked out what you're meant to do on Friend Feed, but I'll play around with it. I should have also said thanks for inviting me.

Adrienne emailed me separately because she couldn't get the comment to work. She said:

Meg Gardiner's newest character Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist who's speciality is the psychological autopsy. Her most recent book The Memory Collector features Ian Kanan who has anterograde amnesia, ie he can't form new memories. Detail on the memory angle is really interesting as is scene where cabin crew member opens the emergency exit door just before 747 reaches 10,000 ft!