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Mnemosyne and Lethe; the Culture of Remembrance and Oblivion in the Western System
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Salvador Dalí. “The Persistence of Memory” (1931)
Salvador Dalí. “The Persistence of Memory” (1931)

The Culture of remembrance shapes the political foundation of every state in the world. When addressing the culture of remembrance in Germany, what crosses one’s mind immediately is the Allied-prescribed collective memory for the German people installed at the end of World War II. The psychological roots of this post-war culture of remembrance and its significance for the Germans, as well as for other peoples in Europe, go back deep into their past. Why does the culture of remembrance, as opposed to the culture of oblivion, play such a prominent role in Germany, but also to a lesser extent in the whole of the West—as if the real course of world history must have started in the aftermath of 1945?

Memory and collective memory are the foundations of the identity formation process irrespective of our hatred or love toward our opinion makers or toward our politicians respectively, or, for that matter, irrespective of the prevailing zeitgeist. One must first clarify a few terms and sort out a few names from European mythology and history, and also place this subject into a larger historical and philosophical context. Inevitably, one is bound to attempt to rescue a few poets and thinkers.

In ancient Greek mythology Mnemosyne is the name of the memory goddess; she is the symbol of omniscience and all-knowledge. Without Mnemosyne there is no human life, no language, no culture, and without her, all people are doomed to vegetate like animals stripped of their memory. In contrast to the memory goddess Mnemosyne, the goddess Lethe is portrayed as a river of forgetfulness; that is, Lethe is the stream of oblivion flowing in the notorious underworld. He who dares drink from this river forgets his previous life, but also his worries and his weltschmerz, in the hope of attaining a relatively carefree life in the underworld, or reenact a new life on earth.[i]T. Sunic, Titans are in Town(A Novella andAccompanying Essays), preface by Kevin MacDonald (London, Budapest: Arktos, 2017). These two goddesses are often evoked by poets, and figuratively speaking by all of us on the daily basis when struggling to suppress or obliterate embarrassing past events, including those of a political nature. Alongside, we yearn to resuscitate our beautiful memories, or better yet revive the moments of our past bliss.

There are, however, differences between individual and collective memories. Collective memories, which are usually administered on memorial days or public commemorations, or other public events, are always politically supervisedFor example, countless days of collective remembrance honoring the victims of fascism or colonialism in countries of the former communist Eastern bloc turned into political spectacles—but of a transitory nature. The day after, most of those memorial days were either collectively forgotten or were met with general disinterest. Thereafter, citizens of former East Germany or former Yugoslavia made jokes behind closed doors about those communist spectacles and their organizers. One can recall gigantic memorial events in former East Germany or in former Yugoslavia held in honor of the fallen Soviet soldiers or communist partisans in World War II. Of course, public commemorations for the victims of communism were not allowed; nameless victims of communism were shoved into the culture of oblivion. In the official communist culture of remembrance there could be no victims of communism at all, given that the terms “victim” and “memory” were only applied to selected communist heroes. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as well as in the wake of the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, communist memorial events had to be remodeled and replaced with new memorial words, with former communist self-promoters having to adapt themselves to the liberal zeitgeist. At these new commemorative events former communist symbolism is being replaced now by a liberal verbiage and iconography. Little has changed, however, as far as antifascist content is concerned. Incidentally, the days of collective commemoration for the victims of fascism and especially the homage to the Holocaust victims make up the foundation of the international law in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and in America.

Remembering the wishful thinking

Our individual remembrance, on the other hand, especially if it brings forth images of past happy encounters or joyful moments from good old or ancient times, often functions as a pipe dream, whereby we nostalgically project those past blissful images into the present, or the near future in the hope of having them relived one more time. Every wishful thinking, however, is a logical consequence of a disfigured memory. One can recall here the words by the poet Hölderlin in his poem “Mnemosyne,” in which he expresses his longing for the rebirth of mythical times:

And there’s a law,
That things crawl off in the manner of snakes,
Prophetically, dreaming on the hills of heaven.
And there is much that needs to be retained,
Like a load of wood on the shoulders.
But the pathways are dangerous.[ii]Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected and translated by James Mitchell; bilingual, in German and English (San Francisco: Ithuriel’s Spear, 2007), p. 95.

To each of us his own memories, to each of others also his interpretation of his memories. My interpretation of my memories of my past encounters are differently crafted than those composed by the individuals who shared those previous encounters. Even unimaginative people have a need for imaginary memories often bordering on reality-denying wishful thinking. The contrast between reality and wishful thinking, however, plays a special role in individual memories, because wishful thinking often borders on self-deception. In order to better illustrate wishful thinking, one could enumerate countless German poets and especially German Dark Romanticists describing their memories that usually lead up to catastrophes, suicide or deaths.

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Great disappointments in particular arise with memories relating to political views. Many of us know colleagues who are astute critics of the System, but whose alternative dreams about the future of Europe or the US are based on unreal judgments. Whenever we make reference to political dreams, what comes to mind is the symbolism in the novella An Incident at the Owl Creek Bridge by the American writer Ambrose Bierce.[iii]Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and other stories –Ein Vorfall an der Eulenfluß-Brücke und andere Erzählungen) (edited by Angela Uthe-Spencker), (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag,bilingual 1980). The main character is a Southern local politician who has been captured and sentenced to death in the midst of the American Civil War. He is already swinging on the gallows yet imagining how he has cleverly escaped the noose of his Yankee executioners, while at the same time relishing his return to his family within his self-overstretched timespan. The desire for his doppelganger who could trade places was a great illusion though. He was already dead and gone.

The difference between individual and collective memory is glaring. Our individual memories, even if they are not generated by a power politician, can also turn into a nightmare. Each memory, regardless of whether it is individual or collective, harbors the risk of playing itself out in a subjective notion of time extension. Mulling over those happy moments from the past devours more time than the actual timespan that it took to live those happy moments. Worse, mulling over happy moments can transform itself into the sense of a distorted self which longs for world improvement. Conversely, we also crave to ditch some of our bad memories, especially if they remind us in hindsight of our past grotesque behavior or our previous awkward encounters, or of our former political lifestyles. Ernst Jünger vividly describes the sense of the overstretched time resulting from ceaselessly pondering our memories.

Collective memory, or a memory imposed by a government or a tyrant easily generates mass psychosis, as we are experiencing today with state-decreed Covid regulations. Incidentally, one could also note a series of political-historical commemorations in the EU and America in favor of non-European migrants and their colonized history. German politicians on such occasions like to posture as role models for a self-induced wrongdoing nation (“Tätervolk”)—a nation that is expected to carry out in public and for all eternity the remembrance rituals on behalf of victims of fascism. This overkill in the German compulsion to cozy up to foreigners is very old, having its roots in the politics of self-denial extending deep into the hundreds of years of stateless German history. Erwin Stransky, a German thinker and neurologist of Jewish descent and very friendly to Germans, noticed shortly after the end of the First World War, that is, way before the post-World War II Allied brainwashing and liberal-communist re-education started. He noted how the Germans like raving about aliens and “that nowhere is it easier than in Germany to lure and confuse the spirits with cleverly “launched” pseudo-scientific or pseudo-legal catchphrases.” [iv]Erwin Stransky, Der Deutschenhass (Wien und Leipzig: F. Deuticke Verlag, 1919), p. 71 Such a disfigured memory has now become a hallmark of all Western peoples.

PART II

Getting high on oblivion

Where does the culture of oblivion stand? Collective forgetting is often encouraged by EU and US politicians and the media, especially in relation to millions of unknown victims of communism or countless victims of the World War II Allied aerial terror bombing. Over decades those victims have only featured as footnotes in Western media. Even more grotesque is the craving for oblivion by many US and EU establishment intellectuals and politicians with regard to the outdatedness of their former political views—views to which they were ardent standard bearers not long ago. This is the case with ex-Marxist intellectuals in the aftermath of the breakdown of their Marxist mystique. The majority of these people have by now completely switched to the capitalist free market ideology.

Sleep is an expedient tool to self-oblivion and above all it helps a lot in fighting bad memories. Dreamless sleep is the best way to pull oneself out of bad memories. Shakespeare’s protagonists often talk of sleep as the best method of salvation, whereby a good night’s sleep of a political prisoner brings more happiness than sleepless and memorable days of a tyrant. The life-weary Hamlet, always betrayed and duped by his royal family, speaks to himself:

To sleep! perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time[v]William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act III, Sc 1)(Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877) p. 210-211.

The powerful ruler King Henry IV in another Shakespeare’s drama praises even more the salvation of a gentle sleep:

How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?[vi]Dramatic Writings of Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, Act III, Sc. I, London: ed. John BellBritish Library, 1788), p.60.

In addition to sleep, there are more vivid methods for harnessing the forgetting process and rid oneself of bad memories, or at least temporarily keeping them under control. The age-old remedy is alcohol, or better yet the drug opium, which slows down the flow of time and keeps embarrassing memories in check. Once again, one must refer to Ernst Jünger, who was not only the best observer of our end times, but also the best German connoisseur of numerous narcotics. Jünger was a refined gentleman who dealt a lot with the intake of “acid”—LSD—in order to better circumnavigate the acidic liberal-communist walls of time. In addition, Jünger was good friends with the discoverer of LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffmann. Both lived for more than one hundred years. “Acid is great!”—so would say his disciples addicted to his name.

Under the influence of narcotics time slows down. The river flows more gently; the banks recede. Time becomes boundless; it turns into a sea.[vii]Ernst Jünger, Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch (München: DTV Klett-Cotta, 1990), p. 37.

One must be cautious though with drug trips, as there is always a risk of forgetting one’s fate.[viii]Cf. Tomislav Sunic, „Rechter Rausch; Drogen und Demokratie“, Neue Ordnung (Graz, IV/2003). Homer’s Odysseus faced this danger with his sailors on his way back home. After their long sea-wandering, one day they all ended up in the land of the lotus eaters—men who indulged in eating lotus drug, thereby acquiring the skills to rid themselves of their memories and all accompanying worries. Odysseus had a lot of trouble getting his intoxicated, memoryless comrades back on board.[ix]The Oddyssey of HomeBook IX,with explanatory notes by T.A. Buckley, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1891). p. 118. In fact, those mythical lotus eaters that Odysseus met are a primeval image of contemporary citizens in Germany, the EU and the USA. No more need for the System to fabricate martyrs, as was the case under communism; the System knows how to use far more elegant methods in enforcing the general will through forced mass oblivion. In Georgia, in the Caucasus, where the tyrant Stalin was born, there is fertile soil good for cannabis growth. Instead of the Gulags in Siberia, Stalin could have had more success in setting up marijuana fields in the former Soviet Union.

Later on, Odysseus ends up at the premises of the witch goddess Circe—the goddess whose powers turned his stranded sailors into pigs. These new swinish creatures, albeit endowed with human understanding, no longer complain about their new life. Quite the contrary. The process of forgetting can be good.[x]Ibid.,Book X, pp. 137-146. Harald Weinrich, Lethe-Kunst und Kritik des Vergessens, (München: Verlag C.H Beck, 1997), p. 230
(The Oddyssey of HomeBook IX,with explanatory notes by T.A. Buckley, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1891). p. 118.)
In such an oblivion-prone environment Nietzsche’s famous words sound pretty much out of date: “Blessed are the forgetful; for they get over their stupidities, too.” Remembering a previous life on Earth can be hell for many people. The System, with its world-improving tales now uses similar Homeric pig-transformation methods of mass dumbing down, promising the birth of La La Land, yet putting it off again and again until the indefinite future when all evil has been expunged. In addition, the System employs refined techniques to keep its citizens under control, either through forced forgetting or selective memorization.

And that’s nothing new in history. Damnatio memoriae or damnation of memory was a common process in ancient Rome against despicable, albeit deceased politicians. Few are those who have the courage to attack living tyrants. The same process of cursing the memory of modern heretics or dissenters continues to rage in full force in modern Germany, the US and the EU. What is new, however, is the rise in self-censorship and self-policing of the vast majority of politicians, but also of the majority of establishment academics. Censorship has always been part of state-imposed collective forgetting, having been around since ancient times. In the contemporary West, however, self-censorship means self-denial, whereby even intelligent people at some point in their career decide on relinquishing their selves. The German poet and medical doctor Gottfried Benn, along with many other European thinkers who managed to survive the Allied terror bombing and purges during and after World War II, wrote in his poem “The Lost Self” of the individual lost in time and space, without direction or values.

Lost I – blasted apart by stratospheres,
victim of ion -: gamma-ray lamb –
particle and field -: chimeras and infinity
on your great stone of Notre- Dame .[xi]Gottfried Benn, „Das verlorene Ich“, Statische Gedichte (Hamburg: Luchterhand Ver., 1991), p. 48. Also translated intoEnglish by Mark W. Roche: https://mroche.nd.edu/assets/286548/roche_benn_verlo...sh.pdf

Self-Censorship and Self-Denial

It is worth remembering the much-lauded German philologist and academic, professor Harald Weinrich, who is often quoted by the System-friendly media and who has written a good book on the culture of forgetting and remembrance in European literature. As with countless establishment academics, however, he is mandated to occasionally perform atonement rites. This strikes the eye in Chapter IX of his much-championed book Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting where he chimes in on the perpetual Auschwitz remembrance. “Forgetting is no longer allowed here. There can’t be an art of forgetting here either and there should be none.” [xii]Harald Weinrich, Lethe-Kunst und Kritik des Vergessens (München: Verlag C.H Beck, 1997), p. 230.

Cf. Lethe, The Art and Critique of Forgetting (Cornell University Press, 2004).
In his remarks for the media, he goes on with his virtue-signaling statements: “I can therefore only wholeheartedly agree that there should be an absolute ban on forgetting genocide.”[xiii]H. Weinrich, „Bayerischer Rundfunk“ progam April 4, 1999.

https://www.br.de/fernsehen/ard-alpha/sendungen/alph...nt.pdf ?

Such Canossa-like confessions of guilt are today part of the political folklore in Germany. Not a word from Weinrich and other antifa fellow travelers about the forced forgetting imposed by the System in regard to millions of hunted down Germans, Croats, and other Eastern Europeans after the victorious march of the Allies in 1945. Weinrich and many of his kindred spirits, with their newly acquired religion of remembrance, fit into Nietzsche’s hyper-moralistic archetype, “where this man of bad conscience has seized on religious presupposition in order to provide his self-torture with its most horrific hardness and sharpness.”[xiv]Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Second Essay, Section 22. Transl. by Carol Diethe (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 63. Weinrich is only a tiny example of the majority of EU whipping-boy academics all vying for a glitzy media-academic visibility through their self-flagellation and self-denial. Long ago the allegory of this German spiritual self-emasculation was described by the German poet and painter Wilhelm Busch in his sarcastic story about Saint Anthony. The ever-repentant Saint Anthony, the great animal lover, decides to get engaged to a pig, presumably in order to better insure his transgender zoophile ascension to heaven for all eternity:

Welcome! Enter in peace!
No friend is divorced from friend here. Quite a
few sheep come in,
why not a good pig too!! [xv]See the whole German text, Wilhelm Busch , Der Heilige Antonius von Padua, (Straßburg; Verlag von Moritz Schauenburg, no date), p. 72. Also parts in English: https://second.wiki/wiki/der_heilige_antonius_von_pa...Buschs .

Several authors have written critically about distorted historical awareness and a selective memory process of Whites. It appears that the more one talks today about the need to remember the victims of fascism, the more these regurgitated antifascist memories turn into objects of incredulity and mass ridicule. Meanwhile, the memory of millions of victims of communism is being relegated to the realm of oblivion. Remembering the fate of expelled and killed German civilians after World War II is gradually becoming of antiquarian-archival interest only, and then only sporadically. The German, US and EU media, including the establishment historians and politicians, if and when narrating communist killing fields are extremely careful never to overshadow the memory of the Holocaust body count. For example, the Croatian post-World War II catastrophe with its hundreds of thousands of dead, known among nationalist-minded Croats as the “Bleiburg tragedy” is hardly ever referred to as part Western collective memory.[xvi]Cf. T. Sunic, „Es leben meine Toten! – Die Antifa-Dämonologie und die kroatische Opferlehre“.Neue Ordnung (Graz, I/2015). On the other hand, the overbidding in antifascist, Jewish and anti-colonial memories, where the proverbial “bad German” always features on the front stage, plays the central role in international law. Sporadic anticommunist memories that are somewhat in line with the System-sponsored memorial festivities are being downgraded to semi-mythological and folkloric events that can be observed every once in a while in today’s Eastern Europe.

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Just as there are differences among the living, there must be differences among the dead. The question arises as to whether the System and its post-communist and liberal offshoots in Germany, the EU, and the US can survive at all without calling to rescue the memories of the “fascist beasts”? Without conjuring up household demons such as Ante Pavelic, Francisco Franco, Vidkun Quisling, etc.? And without constantly recalling Adolf Hitler, the timeless cosmic demon? Today’s prime time culture of remembrance, i.e., the fate of Jews in World War II, long ago morphed into the act of a religious psychodrama going far beyond historical remembrance. In addition to that, many non-European peoples are also now passionately scrambling for their own victimhood pedestal in order to highlight it as the only one worthy of world remembrance. Here we can refer to A. de Benoist’s quotation:

The favorite tool of victimhood overkill is “duty to remember”. Memory is inscribed against a background of oblivion, because one can only remember by selecting what should not be forgotten. (Such a task would be meaningless if we had to remember everything). Memory is therefore highly selective. … One of the highlights of the “duty to remember” means that there is no statute of limitations for “crime against humanity” — a notion which is likewise devoid of meaning. Strictly speaking only an extraterrestrial could commit a crime against humanity (By the way, the perpetrators of such crimes are usually depicted in the metaphorical sense as “extraterrestrials”.) — and in complete contradiction to the European cultural tradition, which by granting amnesty provides the judicial form of oblivion. [xvii]Alain de Benoist, Les Démons du Bien (Paris: éd. P. Guillaume de Roux, 2013), p. 34-35.

One has to recall Nietzsche’s critical words here, when he writes about the overkill of our “monumental” and “antiquarian” memories: “The surfeit of history of an age seems to me hostile and dangerous to life….”[xviii]F. Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, Section 5, transl. by P. Preuss (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1980), p. 28. Nietzsche’s warning, however, applies today to all European peoples and their respective victimologies, be they of antiquarian or monumental nature. To what degree should Europeans, and especially the German people, stretch their historical memories? Up to the massacre of the Saxons at Verden in AD 782, or up to the millions of dead in the Thirty Years’ War, or up to the millions of ethnic Germans and Eastern Europeans killed in the aftermath of World War II? Mulling over the opposing memories is becoming pointless today. With or without their forgotten and resurrected dead, the whole of the German-EU-US System resembles a large, outdated, multicultural antiquarian bookshop where fake sorcerer’s apprentices keep lecturing on selective and fake memories.

Notes

[i] T. Sunic, Titans are in Town(A Novella andAccompanying Essays), preface by Kevin MacDonald (London, Budapest: Arktos, 2017).

[ii] Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected and translated by James Mitchell; bilingual, in German and English (San Francisco: Ithuriel’s Spear, 2007), p. 95.

[iii] Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and other stories –Ein Vorfall an der Eulenfluß-Brücke und andere Erzählungen) (edited by Angela Uthe-Spencker), (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag,bilingual 1980).

[iv] Erwin Stransky, Der Deutschenhass (Wien und Leipzig: F. Deuticke Verlag, 1919), p. 71

[v] William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act III, Sc 1)(Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877) p. 210-211.

[vi] Dramatic Writings of Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, Act III, Sc. I, London: ed. John BellBritish Library, 1788), p.60.

[vii] Ernst Jünger, Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch (München: DTV Klett-Cotta, 1990), p. 37.

[viii] Cf. Tomislav Sunic, „Rechter Rausch; Drogen und Demokratie“, Neue Ordnung (Graz, IV/2003).

[ix] The Oddyssey of HomeBook IX,with explanatory notes by T.A. Buckley, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1891). p. 118.

[x] Ibid.,Book X, pp. 137-146. Harald Weinrich, Lethe-Kunst und Kritik des Vergessens, (München: Verlag C.H Beck, 1997), p. 230

[xi] Gottfried Benn, „Das verlorene Ich“, Statische Gedichte (Hamburg: Luchterhand Ver., 1991), p. 48. Also translated intoEnglish by Mark W. Roche: https://mroche.nd.edu/assets/286548/roche_benn_verlorenes_ich_english.pdf

[xii] Harald Weinrich, Lethe-Kunst und Kritik des Vergessens (München: Verlag C.H Beck, 1997), p. 230.

Cf. Lethe, The Art and Critique of Forgetting (Cornell University Press, 2004).

[xiii] H. Weinrich, „Bayerischer Rundfunk“ progam April 4, 1999.

https://www.br.de/fernsehen/ard-alpha/sendungen/alpha-forum/harald-weinrich-gespraech100~attachment.pdf ?

[xiv] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Second Essay, Section 22. Transl. by Carol Diethe (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 63.

[xv] See the whole German text, Wilhelm Busch , Der Heilige Antonius von Padua, (Straßburg; Verlag von Moritz Schauenburg, no date), p. 72. Also parts in English: https://second.wiki/wiki/der_heilige_antonius_von_padua#:~:text=Saint%20Anthony%20of%20Padua%20is,anti%2Dclerical%20attitude%20Wilhelm%20Buschs .

[xvi] Cf. T. Sunic, „Es leben meine Toten! – Die Antifa-Dämonologie und die kroatische Opferlehre“.Neue Ordnung (Graz, I/2015).

[xvii] Alain de Benoist, Les Démons du Bien (Paris: éd. P. Guillaume de Roux, 2013), p. 34-35.

[xviii] F. Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, Section 5, transl. by P. Preuss (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1980), p. 28.

(Republished from The Occidental Observer by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History • Tags: American Media, World War II 
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  1. Andreas says:

    Ernst Jünger, …was good friends with the discoverer of LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffmann.

    The decorated German WWI soldier and author of the unforgettable Storm of Steel who forced the hand of chance at every turn? Fascinating. What strange book ends. There is much more to learn about this inspiring and great man.

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