Creative Forgetfulness

“Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders,” Nietzsche preaches, and if there is one lesson to take away from his work, perhaps it is this: creative forgetfulness conditions fullness.

Nietzsche’s critique is lodged against those who, on the contrary, are stuffed up, clogged, overfull. It’s not just that they can’t forget what they’ve done, who they have been, and what has been done to them – and so are stung constantly by bites of bad conscience, guilt, remorse and regret. They also can’t get out of their head all the different behaviors they’ve observed in others – and so they struggle to define a mode of life that would deviate in any way from the norm, from anything that could not rather easily be absorbed into the mass of insignificance. Such people are damned to a straight-jacket of memories and unbendable empirical observations, unable to sense new chances or to will another way.

To be unable to forget, for Nietzsche, amounts to forgetting that one “is.” So much in the loop of what was, clinging to bygone determinations, one acts as if existence were beyond transformation – a trap, a “life sentence,” a punishment. Whereas, in reality, so long as we are still living, it remains unfinished, open up to the end to new habits, new attitudes, new speeches. Amor fati – to see what is necessary in things, so as to make them beautiful – liberates from fatalism. It affirms our freedom to treat every circumstance as a gift, or rather, as an opportune occasion (kairos): condition of possibility for fullness.

The creative process – which merges here with life itself, in that its rule coincides perfectly with its form – is no different. To produce the new is to forget what’s been produced past. But let’s avoid a misunderstanding: this does not imply that there is no development from one stage to the next, or that what lies behind is ignored; only that, in the heat of innovation, there is no time, no room, to pay attention to what’s already been transcended. Surely, it remains; we still survey and learn from our own traces and those of all humanity. But once we set off to generate new ones, to chase down new ideas, we do not even have to choose to forget about them, suddenly they are swept into an unprecedented configuration. They have already disappeared or mutated, along with whoever in us created them. In this way, what’s past is perfected and ‘redeemed’.

For in truth we are always reproducing ourselves with a difference – a difference we can never master, a difference we never get the better of, but do undergo and can direct. It is this difference – eternal return in every instant of the ‘same’ creative forgetfulness – that lets us get the better of our blunders, to act beyond the confines of any previous stage, and so to ‘become who we are’, unknown to any former self, yet underway.

(Nov 12, 2016)

Dom Sylvester Houédard 1
Image: Dom Sylvester Houédard

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