On forgetting and having to learn again

21 November 2008 | ,

Common knowledge says that you never forget how to bike, or to drive a car, or even ski. These are three things I once learned and completely forgot to the extent that, having had my driving license for ten years, I had to take 22 classes before driving to Arran. I did it quite badly, and found it difficult to even stay in my own lane. In Lofer (Austria) last year, I was put in the beginners group and was demoted 3 times, ending up in what we liked to call “the perfectionists” party, despite everybody else calling us the slow coaches.

I watched “Unknown” this week, a film about 5 men waking up and not remembering anything. Their body language, however, was very telling. One of them saw a gun and handled it like I wouldn’t know how to. Their bodies remembered. Mine didn’t. So what does this mean psychoanalytically? Forgetting, Freud says, is the result of repression and demonstrates the existence of the unconscious.

In the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, François Richard writes:

Forgetting, like remembering, belongs more to the phenomenology of consciousness than to the metapsychology of the unconscious. As a specific form of parapraxis, it also signifies repression according to popular convention. Because it occurs in the preconscious and is attracted by the unconscious, forgetting and the rediscovery of the forgotten are similar to what occurs when the subject clearly formulates for himself something he had always known. There have been few developments in psychoanalysis concerning the pre-conscious ego. As a result, it is easier to formulate psychoanalytic approaches that emphasize the cognitive causality of forgetting.

The more I read, the less I understand. Forgetting names, keys, impressions, intentions is acceptable. But whole sequences of actions or processes? What conflicts was I / am I living through to forget something I should never have forgotten, something so difficult, in fact, to forget? I think it was all intentional, something within me wanted to forget these things because, otherwise, there’s no explanation to such expense. Surely more energy was consumed forgetting than remembering. Certainly, more money was spent learning again, and going through therapy to find out why I forgot in the first place (which remains a mystery). Forgetting something like this may have its pros, though. There was playfulness in the renewed learning, once I overcame the shame (yes, I have my driving license but what do I do with this key? Can you remind me where the brake is? Where do I look? How do I steer? Why my skiing group comprises only a 9 year old boy and me – 31? )… I always regret that I will never be able to read certain books for the first time ever again, that I will never be able to experience what I felt in front of Étant Donnés… Ah, if only the unconscious had a switch!

4 thoughts on “On forgetting and having to learn again

  1. I don’t believe that the forgetting they are talking about has anything to do with the forgetting of muscle memory. Your driving isn’t too bad, your skiing is okay — your body remembers both of these things. Rather, I think, your fear and anxiety gets in the way.

  2. The forgetting Freud talks about is always related to the mind, not the body. He does talk, however about unintended acts. I wonder why no-one has thought about joining the two – forgetting actions? Maybe there something for me to do there, another self experiment…

    My driving was horrendous for someone with a license and my skiing was OK, but after a week. You are right, though, my body may remember those things but something in my repressed mind is not letting it. Fear and anxiety have something to do with it, sure, but fear and anxiety of what?

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