Seven Types of Forgetting

David Bunn, Forgetfulness (2011)

In his 2008 essay “Seven Types of Forgetting,” Connerton offers a preliminary taxonomy of forgetting: as

  1. repressive erasure (as in totalitarian makeovers of history, e.g. after the Norman Conquest or in Futurism);
  2. prescriptive forgetting (as in Charles’ general pardon on his return to the throne in 1660);
  3. forgetting that is constitutive in the formation of a new identity (as in narratives of modernity as the transformation of feudalism by capitalism with its concomitant emancipation of individuals);
  4. structural amnesia (as in patri- or matrilinealism in genealogy);
  5. forgetting as annulment (as in the growth of archives and computers);
  6. forgetting as planned obsolescence (as in the — ever-shortening — “product life cycle”); and
  7. forgetting as humiliated silence (as in the case of defeated nations in war).

The agents of Types 1 and 2 are states, governments or ruling parties, and, in the case of the art museum, the gallery’s curators as bearers of western culture or a national or regional inflection of it. The agents of Types 3 and 4 are more varied; they may be individuals, couples, families or kin groups. The agents of Type 5 are both individuals and groups of various sizes (for example, families and large corporations) and societies and cultures as a whole. The agents of Type 6 are the members of an entire system of economic production. The agent of Type 7 is not necessarily but most commonly civil society.

Paul Connerton. Seven Types of ForgettingMemory Studies 1.1 (2008): 59-71.

Hermann Ebbinghaus, The Forgetting Curve (1885)

See Jeffrey Kastner, Sina Najafi and Paul Connerton. Historical Amnesias: An Interview with Paul Connerton. Cabinet 42: Forgetting (Summer 2011).

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera wrote: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” This perspective—one that bears the marks of life under a totalitarian regime in which repression often took the form of enforced forgetting—assumes that remembering is always a virtue and that not doing so is necessarily a failing. But despite dominating much of the debate on cultural memory, this perspective elides the many differences between all the various acts that we cluster under the term “forgetting.” Are all acts of forgetting similar enough that we can think of them, always and necessarily, as a failure? Can forgetting in fact even be a virtue? And how do we understand the relationship between what needs to be forgotten in order for other things to be remembered?

N.B. See, of course, Stephen Turner, “Settlement as Forgetting,” Quicksands: Foundational Histories in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, ed. Klaus Neumann, Nicholas Thomas and Hilary Ericksen (Sydney: UNSW P, 1999) 20-38.


One thought on “Seven Types of Forgetting

  1. Pingback: This Week in “Read and Burn” | Side/Dishes

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