What Do We Need Memory For?

What Do We Need Memory For?

Włodek Goldkorn
time 5 minutes

Do we really need memory? Is it not better to live in oblivion? Ireneo Funes, the title character of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Funes the Memorious, remembered everything as a result of an accident that deprived him of the gift of losing his memories. However, his existence soon became unbearable. In another celebrated short story, The Library of Babel, the Argentine described a library containing all of the books that exist in the world. The moral of both stories, assuming that Borges’ works have one, is this: memory is a wonderful thing, but oblivion is a gift from the gods. Is that really so?

Funes lived in the 19th century – the era of uncovering nature’s secrets, and of rapid industrialization. Modernity entered the stage during a great demand for precision. It required a precise language and precise machines; a precise geography and precise firearms. Precision seemed to be the key to the construction of the future, as it went hand-in-hand with science and allowed the


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You’ve learned to treat these reactions with indifference. You’ve learned to smile in every situation, and at the point of conflict, to use the stronger ammunition of words. People who have known you and your child for years don’t know how you cope. With the awareness of the child’s illness, with the difficulties of daily life, with the drudgery of housework, with doctor visits, the constant lack of time for yourself… not to mention finances. They don’t know how to ask – they’re afraid to ask – and when they get the simplest answer, they shake their heads in disbelief, saying: “I don’t know how you do it, I could never manage, I think I’d die.” These are the replies of women, because the men usually just freeze in fear and don’t say anything. Generally, they don’t even ask questions; that exceeds their abilities. Here ends the strength of the so-called stronger sex. And onward you push the stone of the everyday, like Sisyphus on that huge mountain – you, a woman, the mother of a child who will never be independent.

Mother of a child who will never be independent, you are more of a mother than others are. Not because you want to be; you just don’t have a choice. Where do you get the strength? Do you belong to the select few, to those who can bear more than others? People rise to the challenges life throws at them, or so a certain wise saying goes. Another voice, in turn, says we know ourselves to the degree to which we are tested.

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