The Art of Forgetting : Gloss

The Art of Forgetting

Let us remember how to live through forgetfulness. In his short study of marcel proust, the lone book written during his abbreviated academic career, Samuel Beckett posits that “the man with a good memory does not remember anything because he does not forget anything. His memory is uniform, a creature of routine, at once a condition and function of his impeccable habit, and instrument of reference instead of an instrument of discovery.” There is a lesson to be learned here about acting, which, like living, requires us to forget our part in order to implement the “instrument of discovery.” Actors who do not forget what they are supposed to do sacrifice their liveliness to habit. And, as Beckett tells us elsewhere, “habit is a great deadener.”

The first of these imagined theatres replicates the past perfectly, but it is a past that never completes its form, a past that retains an uncertain relationship towards the future it was always touching. It must, in other words, keep forgetting itself in order to keep desire moving. That is the way with nostalgia, which fractures us afresh with every passing day. Such memories are overworked, overexposed, and yet never held in hand. We may rehearse them daily, but we will never get the scene down correctly, never get in the habit. Something is just beyond us, over the horizon, the door standing ajar. The intense privacy of this first theatre means that it will only work for “you.” Each feature is designed with your attention in mind.

The second theatre moves the art of forgetting into a public sphere, teaching us once again how to behave as if for the first time. The mistake, the forgotten line – these puncture our habits of watching and acting with sudden appearances of life unscripted. We wonder at these irruptions of potentiality in any performance we attend. This theatre is a studio for the art of forgetting, where trained professionals practice for our pleasure, so that all of us, in turn, might forget our social selves and roles. The repertoire of our daily lives, its routines and phrases, systematically abandoned. What actor has not been asked: “How do you remember all those lines?” Instead, we will ask: “How do you forget all those lines?”

About the Author

Daniel Sack is Associate Professor in the Department of English and the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of After Live: Possibility, Potentiality, and the Future of Performance (Michigan, 2015) and Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape (Routledge, 2016). He is the editor of Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage (Routledge, 2017) and