“Pioneering a new kind of literature”
At first glance, Charles Baxter’s “Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age” seems to be talking about a method for dealing with abundant information. However, while reading it, the main point of this writing became so much clear, that it is about literature in America. He used a variety of techniques to support his point that “strategic amnesia” should be adopted in American literature as a new style of American literature in the rest of 20th century. In order to establish the base of his argument, quotes from books, comparison, and personal anecdote are techniques he used.
At the beginning, Baxter successfully catches the eyes of his readers with his personal history about his brother. This personal anecdote successfully plays a roll in making a logical start for the development of his argument. Especially, his brother’s case that “he had trouble in school (and he went to a lot of schools) because he could not learn printed information easily” (Baxter, p.141) help make this essay tangible and intimate to readers due to the fact that, as later he asserted that “there’s no intimacy otherwise, and any memoir requires intimacy to convey its experiences” (Baxter, p.152), it is personal experience of the author, and may be frequently seen in a family.
The second part is where Baxter first mentions the necessity of “strategic amnesia” presenting the analysis of a situation that “No one can absorb all the information” (Baxter, p.146). Then, he raised the question, “What meaning does forgetfulness possess in an information age?”(Baxter, P.146). Following the question, logically the strategic forgetfulness is justified by the case that “Reaganism, understood as the proving ground of historical amnesia, strategically ignored the past in favor of a wasteful and a self-indulgent present”(Baxter, p.148)
At the third part, the turning point to get into what really the author wants to say just began with a theoretical viewpoint about memory by the quote from a book “The Storyteller” by Walter Benjamin. Baxter purposely had the excerpt from the book so as easily to jump on the area of literature by paraphrasing Benjamin’s argument that “Experience has fallen in value” (Benjamin, p.149), the paraphrase as follow:
“To paraphrase his argument: you don’t want to hear about my experiences anymore. Nor am I usually in a mood to tell you about them. Why? First of all, because much of my experience feels blank, terrible, or unchaning. Benjamin here uses the example of mute shell-shocked soldiers coming back from World War I. Secondly, I’m not having experiences in my day-to-day life: instead, I’m absorbing or processing information.” (Baxter, p149)
By doing so, he was getting establishing more clearly his stance on the memory definitely distinct from the memory of personal experience with a hypothetical example of our kind of daily life, MS. Bartleby who hardly makes her own time because of stuffing data she has to arrange and analyze wherever she is at home or work. Then, Baxter slightly implied his advocacy of forgetting stating that “And yet, if her life feels inadequate and shallow to her, that very forgetting, that very shame, may, through a quasi-Freudian reversal, also seem immensely attractive.” (Baxter, p.150), and further explaining as follow :
“Forgetting and shame might just serve, under the immediate surface of consciousness, as an escape route of sorts. Nor “I prefer not to,” but “I don’t remember.” Or, “I prefer not to “ in the form of “I don’t remember.” Not remembering locates itself as an act of sabotage against mere data, of rebellion at the local level. It is memory’s version of the Freudian slip.” (Baxter, p150)
Finally, Baxter revealed his point more clearly with the established the mechanism of forgetfulness, the newly defined the three notions that are shame, innocence, and forgetfulness. Those mechanism and notions are involved in American literature in terms of memoir described as below :
“The recent proliferation of memoirs has been viewed with alarm by literary and cultural pundits, who have claimed that all these memoirs are yet another manifestation of the ubiquitous viral narcissism at work in the American cultural body, indentified by Christopher Lasch and several others”(Baxter. P.151)
Then, Baxter made his contradictory viewpoint on the anxiety of the pundits, saying “It’s a perfectly reasonable response to the devaluation and even destruction of personal experience.” (Baxter, p.151) Right after this statement, he added that “What you remember is the key to who you are.” (Baxter, 151) Now, he seems to be ready to go for the conclusion clearly about something in matter of writing. Again, Baxter pointed out a problematic tendency in American memoirs that have had “reserved a special place for missing or empty or vacated or just bad father.” (Baxter, p.152) Then, narrative dysfunction as a term for writing style or a phenomenon in writing, is also used to stand out the problem in American memoirs.
“… narrative dysfunction (the phrase is C. K. Williams’s) is the process by which we lose track of the story of ourselves, the story that tells us who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.” (Baxter, p.153)
At the last part, he was rather decisively trying to present an alternative to power through the matters in writing previously analyzed. He was saying as follow:
“Nevertheless, it’s just possible that in the last part of the twentieth century, we are pioneering a new kind of literature, a literature of amnesia, as we assemble the fragmentary texts of forgetting. This new literature is probably one side effect of data-nausea, of which narrative minimalism may be another. If memory stands against death, forgetting stands against data. It’s also one solution to the problem of trauma”(Baxter, p.154)
Then, he took lots of alternative books using “forgetting as a consistent narrative device.” (Baxter, p.154) the books weighing power on the argument that there are needs to change in American literature and also possible solutions to develop and find out a new literature style in the age of devaluation of personal memory. In addition, before the last example, he again convinced the ground of using forgetting in writing by saying this:
“The shame of forgetting. The necessity of it. What help is the data if you don’t – if you can’t and won’t – remember the story?”(Baxter, p.155)
Rather forcing his argument to the reader, he chose to boldly imply his point at the last sentence using metaphor quoting from “Lake-of-the-Woods.” This would help him much powerfully appeal his point of the essay to readers rather directly reinforcing his point with repeating the argument using forgetfulness, make new types of narrative in American culture. With his open ending of his essay, there are lots more possibilities that we can think about the power of using forgetting in writing in this Information age. So far, this essay would give not only insight on forgetting as a technique for literature but also points to be applied to day-to-day lives of ours, which may enhance our lives to be more human-like and valuable with our own personal memories.