Monday, November 17, 2008

The Blog Post of Laughter and Forgetting

As I forget my identification at home, or my wallet, or my head when it is not attached, I am reminded of the title of Milan Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It occurs to me that we Boomers are entering a stage in which the Orwellian destruction of memory against which Kundera protests is inevitable.

I was always an absent-minded professor, someone who has known me since my 20s reminds me. Even I recall that I always fought against my forgetting and perennial messiness, with decidedly mixed results.


About a decade ago my printer's rep died and what his colleagues most remembered with laughter was his tendency to forget to turn off his cell phone before a meeting. That was when cellular phones were new.

As I near the completion of the second edition of a family history on which I have been laboring almost all my life, it occurred to me that I didn't scan in pictures at the optimum resolution. Thank goodness I kept the photos rather than discarding them. Some grandchild will have to scan them more accurately in using the precursor of 22nd century technology.

For myself, I'm done as soon as the editing, writing and layout is finished. There are a number of projects that I now begin to realize I am unlikely ever to complete to my satisfaction.

Similarly, there are a number of achievements I will never attain. I won't grow up to be President of the United States nor managing editor of The New York Times.

So? Can't I simply laugh it off and forget these silly yearnings? Kundera wrote with a similar irony of the air-brushing-out in official photos of politicians purged from the Czech Communist Party.

Granted, in Soviet forced forgetting there was a tacit and symbolic death brought about that Kundera understandably rebelled against. Death by murder always feels like a violation.

Yet doesn't nature murder us all? Don't I face an explicit and actual death?

Oddly enough, I become less rebellious against my murder by nature's hand with every day that passes. I am getting old enough to laugh at it, to gain an indifference to whether it occurs  next week or 30 years from now.

It is almost as if life has excised a bad tooth and given me laughing gas to avoid the pain.

Having lived in a dictatorship with relative everyday ease, I wonder now whether living in a totalitarian regime was all that different from the dictatorship of nature: laughter and forgetting to ease whatever ails us, instead of the futile struggle to remember.

Soviets were paying rent at 1920s rates in the 1990s. Sure, the ruble wasn't a freely convertible currency, but I doubt it made a difference for the majority of Russians. Would it have changed things that much in America?

As one who lives and breathes politics, it might be difficult to forgo certain kind of arguments in cafes or on the Internet, but in the end, have I ever really solved any social problem with my discussions?

Most people want a few simple things. A full belly, some affection or facsimile thereof, clothes appropriate to the season, a decent place to live, something to keep us occupied. Oh, and something to complain about.

Was there a richer, more compassionate humor anywhere outside of Soviet Russia in our lifetime? Remember "we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us"? I doubt there was anything like it amid the stationwagons and color TV sets of Levittown.

Sure, I could to without the wanton murder of some 30 million people under Stalin. But even people who lived through the Red Terror are wistful about it today.

In the end, it is all laughter and forgetting.
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