I’ve become a very good forgetter. Better than I’d like to be. I find myself drawn to collect old books and pamphlets that could be described as “memory courses.” Those books are fascinating because their pages are not filled with memories of actual events but rather they’re dedicated to the more abstract notion of enlarging one’s capacity for memory. Or, to curtail one's propensity for forgetting which is itself a natural and necessary component of memory. But what is normal here? People’s individual capacity for memory varies widely. From amnesia on one side and eidetic memory and Hyperthymesia on the other. Normal lies somewhere between Henry Molaison who, after a medical lobotomy became unable to form new memories and Funes the Memorious, the character from the Jorge Luis Borges story whose memory becomes “Chronometrical” after he falls off of a horse.
The books themselves are from another time. Some are 100 years old and physically they are showing significant signs of aging with brittle, yellowed pages, tattered covers, and fading texts. Even still, these memory course books could probably outlive a digital version of themselves stored on a thumb drive but even the information in the pages of physical books is incapacitated if they remain unopened and unread. They were all procured from eBay, a clearinghouse for unwanted things. What their potential disappearance points to is not the loss of any particular story but rather the forgetting of a profoundly human pre-digital way of remembering them.
We should remind ourselves that memory isn’t a thing. It’s an ability. A faculty. It’s like love in this way. Legs are a thing but running fast is an ability. Memory is our process and capacity for remembering. The 3D prints of aging and archaic modes of information storage (cassette, floppy drive, and thumb drive) speak to memory, even in the digital realm, as an ability and not a thing. What is more useless: a 3D print of a floppy disk or an actual floppy disk whose lack of current hardware and software render the information inaccessible?