In her recent book “The Memory Illusion” Dr. Julia Shaw suggests “…that forgetting is probably the most important things a brain will do”. I’m not sure I would have agreed with her supposition had I not considered a component of the play “Elegy” by Nick Payne where in scene 2 – “Six” one of the characters is offered a clinical procedure to rid herself of a particular memory – that of another character who by dint of a similar procedure (which saves her life) loses the memory of the two characters life together. It seems complicated, but the narrative flow is straightforward to follow. The character in “Six” refuses to rid herself of the memory of the person who has no memory of her and will therefore live with all that’s left of her partner – which is in her memory.
The image above, at the close of the reading, came as those present applauded. The spontaneous act of the three players coming together was unrehearsed and therefore a reaction to their experience. In regards to the experience of rehearsing the play, it was intense. We had only two weeks to derive a working performance and I had no wish to present a production that resembled a radio play with readers facing an audience. I was very pleased with its theatricality and the sense that it was a performance rather than a reading meant it continued to ask other questions than those emanating from the written word. Another way of saying this, is that the presence of other voices ensured I heard alternate perspectives entering the narrative, questioning my comprehension.
One of the real benefits of rehearsal is in the repetitive nature of working the words. The investigation of the semantics, and emotions the words construct, as layered by the experience of those reading made this process that much more intense – we only had tears once (that I saw)! I have now watched the video a few times and my sense of the narrative(s) has becoming settled.
Is forgetting a forgiving act? Forgetting is a self-protection mechanism and as important as remembering? Just a couple of the questions I am considering from considering the text. Would deliberately excising parts of one’s past be selfish, much as Dante describes in Purgatorio, where Virgil is required to drink from the River Lethe in order to forget all his sins before entering Paradise? Or are these two different types of forgetting. Victim’s of PTSD would perhaps welcome the ability to ‘forget’, to leave behind, to move on from. The play mentions a vicar who was responsible for a terrible car accident and wished for his faith to be removed and upon having it removed was able to move on. What about criminals, what about all those who have committed terrible crimes? Would it be right to permit them to ‘move on’?
Memory is callous as much as it is a requirement. It is vital to our identity for without it we are nothing. There is much mention in the play about the clinical practitioner playing God. Recreating new identities by the careful selection of the construct of the person being operated on, I don’t say reconstruction, because I think of it as de-construction. The person becomes enervated by adopting not a new person exactly, rather a lesser version of themselves, perhaps an idealised interpretation. The character who is offered the chance to release the memory of her partner suggests a society that might offer personalised identity modelling – a reminder perhaps of Adam Curtiss’ ‘Century of the Self’ – where not only can we model our lifestyle, product, position in a society evermore disparate; but we can can cement our sense of individuality to an even greater level of refinement.
Lots to think about.