I like David Cain’s writing about the importance of re-learning:
I’m sure the Germans or the Japanese have a word that means, precisely, “Life-changing ideas that do not change our lives because we only read about them once, agree enthusiastically, and then forget them before we act on them.”
If not, we could use one. How many times has your mind been set ablaze by a profound truth from a book, podcast, article, or a speech, only for the idea to fade before you could do anything with it?
One thing I’ve been pondering lately: making space for good stuff I already know about. After I ported over thousands of old tumblr posts, the ongoing clean-up process has resurfaced a bunch of old stuff I forgot I ever experienced.
When we talk about the 1970s for instance, they think about ABBA as one of the icons of the decade. They don’t know that ABBA at the time was considered to be extremely bad taste – vulgar and completely unfashionable. ABBA was still wearing platform shoes when everyone else had already moved on. What I mean to say is that it’s not always the best versions of the past that live on.
CONVERSATIONS ON SLOWNESS | Vestoj
Great interview. I’ve been slowly working my way through The Histories lately, and this attitude reminded me of Herodotus:
If I were simply to present these people talking about the deep past at face value, an historian would almost immediately say, “Gourevitch was taken in by these guys and their spin on history.” But to me what’s interesting—and the way I’ll present it—is that this is how they are invoking and recounting their inheritance, which may or may not be historically accurate. […] It’s an identity story as much as an accurate history.
On memory and moving on:
There’s a kind of fetishization of memory in our culture. Some of it comes from the experience and the memorial culture of the Holocaust—the injunction to remember. And it also comes from the strange collision of Freud and human rights thinking—the belief that anything that is not exposed and addressed and dealt with is festering and going to come back to destroy you. This is obviously not true. Memory is not such a cure-all. On the contrary, many of the great political crimes of recent history were committed in large part in the name of memory. The difference between memory and grudge is not always clean. Memories can hold you back, they can be a terrible burden, even an illness. Yes, memory—hallowed memory—can be a kind of disease. That’s one of the reasons that in every culture we have memorial structures and memorial days, whether for personal grief or for collective historical traumas. Because you need to get on with life the rest of the time and not feel the past too badly. I’m not talking about letting memory go. The thing is to contain memory, and then, on those days, or in those places, you can turn on the tap and really touch and feel it. The idea is not oblivion or even denial of memory. It’s about not poisoning ourselves with memory.
And there’s this:
There’s no such thing as a story all by itself. Stories don’t exist in solitude—they exist in relation to other stories.
Philip Gourevitch: Memory is a disease – Salon.com
There is always an element of kitsch in monumental memorials, a built-in grandiosity that exaggerates the physical and spiritual statures of their human subjects. That is one of the purposes of turning flesh into imposing stone.
Via. See also Dennis Dutton on kitsch:
According to Tomas Kulka, the standard kitsch work must be instantly identifiable as depicting “an object or theme which is generally considered to be beautiful or highly charged with stock emotions.” Moreover, kitsch “does not substantially enrich our associations related to the depicted subject.” The impact of kitsch is limited to reminding the viewer of great works of art, deep emotions, or grand philosophic, religious, or patriotic sentiments.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Opens in Washington – NYTimes.com
The ghost at the banquet of all public commemoration is always politics—above all, the mobilization of solidarity […] It is about the reaffirming of group loyalty rather than the establishing of historical accuracy, let alone the presenting of an event in all its moral and political complexity.
After 9/11: The limits of remembrance—By David Rieff (Harper’s Magazine)
Great read. (via)
I’ve been surprised—and upset—to find that ideas I had then were very similar to the ones I have now.
This younger I seemed far more engaged than the venal goon I remembered. Why did I want to judge him as lacking? Jealousy? Fear that what was lacking was my own progress?
Time’s Inverted Index (Ftrain.com)
Certainly one of the reasons why World War II came to be called “the Good War,” and those who fought it “the Greatest Generation,” and why Americans have reserved their utmost sentiment for the European theater of that war, is because the 1945 discovery that we’d helped shut down a genocide redeemed that theater’s carnage—ex post facto—and bestowed upon that campaign a narrative, moral, and even aesthetic appeal that is exceptional for any war. Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers epitomize that theater’s irresistible appeal, with their mix of commendably upsetting, technically brilliant combat scenes and more general uplift. Every mangled limb, every shattered facade, every act of conditioned violence stage-whispers “Sacrifice” amid the gently weeping soundtrack and the faded–Saturday Evening Post color palette, with the overall effect evoking stateliness, esteem, even nostalgia—emotional luxuries that only a comfortable remove can give to the hectic, terrifying nature of combat. All of which takes viewers half out of the moment, despite the kinetic you-are-there cinematography.
Getting Their Guns Off – Magazine – The Atlantic
Economist Tyler Cowen on stories and the risks of narrative-influenced thinking. Embrace the messiness of life.
Live | TEDxMidAtlantic: Tyler Cowen on Stories