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March 24, 2009

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting

Milan Kundera     The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, 1979
     Milan Kundera, Czechoslovakian, born 1929.

Kundera's book tells seven short stories united by themes of power and forgetting.

The first story, based on a true event, opens with two Czechoslovakian communist leaders — Klement Gottwald and Vladimir Clementis - standing together on a snowy Prague balcony in February 1948. Clementis graciously puts his warm fur hat on Gottwald's bare head, putting a cloth hat on his own head. The two men are photographed and this becomes an iconic image of the Czechoslovakian revolution.

Four years later, Clementis is purged from the Communist Party and hanged; he is eliminated from all official records, including the now-famous photograph. All that is clearly left of Clementis in the photograph is his fur hat atop Gottwald's head.

Everybody who remembered the story saw the fur hat on Gottwald and remembered Clementis and the willingness to revise the Truth. Later, one of the characters in Kundera's novel refers to the story and says: The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

The full paragraph is:
"The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history, Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster……The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."


The phenomenon is not unique to the Soviet system. I see this in my own experience. As we move more of the historical record, our personnel systems, our health records, and our financial records into digital systems, Wikis, and the Cloud, I think we are likely to see more of it rather than less of it.


pulsar23 said...

Even if we do not move into the digital systems, as most of the least developing countries are, this is true for all events and movements that contribute to extremism ... it is called brainwashing ...

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