The impossibility of reamnesis

As difficult as it is to understand a concept that one has never understood, far more difficult is to un-understand a concept one has used to make sense of the world his whole life in order to understand by an alien perspective.

First, to un-understand one must painstakingly trace out all the facts comprehended by that concept, and these are not only extensive but elusive. In fact, often, without the aid of a concept facts are not only dark, but invisible as well: concepts don’t only provide answers, they raise questions out of sheer nonexistence, ex nihilo. It is not enough to remove the fact, the space of possibility in which the fact exists must be annihilated as well.

Second, once the concept is gone, any remaining trace of problem left behind will become a psychic irritant, a speck of dread, a source of anxiety accompanied by an urgent impulse to resolve it. But one has already solved this problem — the impulse to play Euridice or Lot’s wife will be irresistible. The mind abhors a vacuum, and it will fill the problem with a reflexive question, and the answer will follow, the same as before.

It is for this reason that we cannot go back to the past. We cannot even approach Eden, much less enter it — at least not as the ones who left it. Each time we add a book to scripture, the previous books are irreversibly transfigured and any attempt to recapture the spirit of the original can only concatenate a new (and hopefully better) meaning.

We will not unforget the past because what is there is not only lost knowledge but ignorance irretrievably lost, without which the spirit of the past is inexperiencable. We cannot unforget unless we reforget, and reforgetting is impossible.

We will have to content ourselves with retrieving what we can in the light that illuminates today. What we retrieve might change that light, but we must never mistake that light for the sun that lit Eden, the newly-built Monticello, or Sam Phillip’s face as he walked into Sun Studio.


Anamnesis is impossible because it requires the impossible: reamnesis.

Leave a Reply