“Memory and forgetting: these are the faculties of mind by which we are aware of time, and time is a mystery”
A playful and melancholy defense of forgetfulness by exploring the healing effect it can have on the human psyche, from the author of The Gift
We live in a culture that prizes memory – how much we can store, the quality of what’s preserved, how we might better document and retain the moments of our life while fighting off the nightmare of losing all that we have experienced. But what if forgetfulness were seen not as something to fear, but rather as a blessing, a balm, a path to peace and forgiveness?
A Primer for Forgetting is a remarkable experiment in scholarship, autobiography and social criticism. It forges a new vision of forgetfulness by assembling fragments of art and writing from the ancient world to the modern, weighing the potential boons forgetfulness might offer the present moment as a philosophical and political force. It also turns inward, using the author’s own life and memory as a canvas upon which to extol the virtues of a concept too long taken as an evil.
Drawing material from Hesiod to Jorge Luis Borges to Elizabeth Bishop to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from myths and legends to very real and recent traumas both personal and historical, A Primer for Forgetting is a unique and remarkable synthesis that only Lewis Hyde could have produced.
“An absorbing exploration of memory, creative freedom and the importance of forgetting … wonderfully inventive … intriguing and original”
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“In A Primer for Forgetting, that bold yet gentle intellectual adventurer, Lewis Hyde, harrows the bottomless mysteries of memory and forgetting, trauma and recovery, amnesia and commemoration, reconciliation and forgiveness. If this deep, poignant, soulful, inquisitive, gently tragic and disarmingly erudite book were nine times longer, I would still have felt sad when I realized it was coming to an end”
“The sequence of Lewis Hyde’s brilliant cultural interventions here reaches a new height, but also a new level of intimacy and compassion. The book feels not so much written as “unforgotten” onto the page, out of our collective desire to rescue the world”
“Lewis Hyde’s new book is so counterintuitive, so bracingly clear and fresh, that reading it is like leaping into a cold lake on a hot hike. It shocks the mind. It flushes all kinds of monotony and mental fatigue right out of your system”
wall Street Journal
“An open-hearted interdisciplinarian … Hyde could never give a TED Talk. He refuses to sand the edges or round off the corners of his ideas”
los Angeles Review Of Books
Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator and cultural critic with a particular interest in the public life of the imagination. In addition to The Gift, he is the author of Trickster Makes This World; Common as Air; A Primer for Forgetting; and a book of poems, This Error is the Sign of Love. He has also published two volumes of translations of Nobel laureate Vicente Aleixandre’s poetry and is the editor of On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg and The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau. A MacArthur Fellow and former Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University, Hyde was the Richard L. Thomas Professor in Creative Writing at Kenyon College until his retirement in 2018. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, the writer Patricia Vigderman.