Taking back our minds
In Charles Baxter’s “Shame and Forgetting in the Information Age” seems intent on convincing us on how today we are losing the battle of holding on to our memories. He points out how we resort to hiding behind our weaknesses of losing information or loss of memory. “Forgetting and shame might just serve, under the immediate surface of consciousness, as an escape route of sorts.” Personal anecdotes, contrast, comparison, and persuasion are techniques Baxter uses to create a convincing essay.
Baxter begins his essay with part one, stating a personal anecdote describing the close but difficult relationship with his brother Tom. He uses this technique very well, which captures the reader’s interest. This particular anecdote uses as background information in part three of his essay, quoting Walter Benjamin- “Information – proves incompatible with the spirit of storytelling.” Also in part five, “what help is the data if you don’t-if you can’t and won’t- remember the story.” Using such anecdotes makes it easy for us to relate to personal experience, which draws us in.
At the start of part two, Baxter begins to use contrast, stating the differences between remembering data and remembering experiences. “It is possible that the quantity of data we are supposed to remember has reduced our capacity to remember or even have experiences. . .” What I think Baxter is saying here, is that we could possibly be taking in too much information sometimes that can leave us unable to share personal memories or experiences.
Toward the end of part two, Baxter goes on to compare how two great Presidents used forgetfulness to their advantage. They were both very forgetful at times; Reagan with history and events, and Clinton with he denied he never forgets. “Reagan managed to contradict the principle . . . his forgetfulness made him far incompetent. . .” What I believe Baxter is attempting to express, is that forgetfulness plagues us all in many different ways, but does not have to be our downfall. “With Reagan, forgetting aided and abetted power. On the other-hand, “Clinton seems to be able to bury the past without demonstrating visible shame.” We can hide are shame in so many ways forgetting about the past, because it is in the past.
In part three, it seems Baxter is showing us how the more information dumped on us can take us away from our natural ability to share experiences. “. . . the explosion of information in the Modern Age is denying us something precious: the ability to exchange experiences.” Comparing the two points of the relationship between information and experience, quoting Walter Benjamin, I think he makes a valid argument – “Experience has fallen value. . . Information proves incompatible with the spirit of storytelling.”
In the remaining parts of his essay, Baxter does a lot of narrating and giving somewhat a suggestive remedy. The fact that memoirs can prove to be a valuable in the loss of experiences, I think it is not enough. He could have added more when heading in the direction of how we may be able to save our precious memories and experiences, so that we feel no shame.
In the last part of his essay, Baxter talks about forgetting, our only possible escape. He gives us an example by using the novel In the Lake of the Woods showing us a time when we have no choice to forget. Perhaps there is something so dramatic that we need to forget. “Against a shame that you cannot bear, your mind detaches itself from its own memory and sails off in the direction of a psychic Lake-of-the-Woods. It is the strategic amnesia of every day life, both involuntary and willful. All the computers in the world cannot remedy it.”
Baxter, Charles. “Shame and forgetting in the Information Age”, (St Paul, MN: Graywolf, 1999)