by Rebecca Han (MArch '21)
Paul Ricoeur writes of the problematic of forgetting as a disturbing threat that may be countered by appeasements of memory. The art of forgetting, he argues in this respect, remains a delusion as there is simply an impossibility embedded within the active process of forgetting. Inevitably, the “underpinning of memory… is to some considerable extent a nationalist effort premised on the need to construct a desirable loyalty to the insider’s understanding of one’s country, tradition, and faith” (Ricoeur 242). The long-standing towers of Nazi Germany are thus inevitably standing towers of memory history. Each form of forgetting remains relevant to the discussion of how memories play a role in influencing the narrative regarding contemporary topics, particularly in our case of the Holocaust and its consequential effects on the relics of Nazi Germany.
Of particular importance is how these forms of forgetting may range in type: memories can be altered, effaced or destroyed, things could be forgotten yet kept in reserve, or they may physically undergo a transformation by being blocked, manipulated or obligated. Specifically, these manifestations regarding the uses and abuses of memory range in typology from blocked memory, manipulated memory, to obligated memory. In the same line, this range in typology can then be translated to a similar taxonomy of forgetting or measures of erasure in actual practice. Here, the contemporary methods of appropriation embodied in various forms by the Flak Tower can thus then be studied in a range of taxonomy of practices by which monuments have destroyed, hidden, refashioned or reappropriated throughout the years.
In the analogy that memory can be described as a material trace of something in the same respect that the brain retains cortical traces or in the same way that there may be documentary traces of an event, Ricoeur defines forgetting in the sense of a “context of dysfunction of mnestic operations, along the uncertain border between the normal and the pathological” (Ricoeur 418). As a subjective representation of the past, there is the “central problematic of the memory-image, namely, the dialectic of presence, absence, and the distance that inaugurated, accompanied and tormented our investigation” (419). Ricoeur here goes as far as to venture that the stability of a healthy brain can be labeled by way of forgetting in the realm level of knowledge by which the border of what is ‘normal’ and that which is ‘pathological’ can be defined.
Thus, utter destruction is one way by which memory can be entirely obliterated both from the mind and in physical form. Just as the obliteration of existing synaptic connections of neurons in our brains may effectively erase memories by way of physical deletion, destruction in the object-world may operate similarly by the demolition or complete razing of the tower, in effect producing the same results.