Try to forget.


The Virtue Wagon, Paul Klee, 1922

by Lauren Berlant

Not unintentional forgetting, but of a thing that insists on being in the flow of things.

It could be the forgetting of a dream you can’t stop because you’re in it, or of a sense that the world is converging over there, on that other guy’s table. All of history did not do its work to produce you. You can imagine that history sought to produce you, but who are you? A bundle of action and feral muttering, a sweet thing inhaled by various strangers, booty for money, a small bird puffing out its chest, a bit scared, an accident.


Or it could be of the angry surprise that again you want a thing you can’t have without help.

It could be of a look that you received once, or of the something difficult you were told, as when someone was “nice” enough to let you know that the world still isn’t sure about you. Or of that mass of scrolling faces protesting, milling about, being herded, encouraged, or threatened: or of that thing you’re eating blankly now. One of us, one of us can hit like a balloon or a train, and either way might need to be lost.


You might want to forget that no one gets the right family. Disavowal is what you do to not know what you sense. This game is harder.

I would like to lose two sentences, and also a certain tone of voice.

1. When a friend says, “I don’t have any friends.”

2. When a friend says, “We think you are Rihanna to his Chris Brown.”

Both friends are “professional.” The “aesthetic of mutual handling” in those contexts is a rough situation. Phrases stick a pressure in me. This section seems shorter than the others, although it is the same length.


It’s all the rage to have impatience with ambivalence, but personality is our style of getting in the way of our own aims. Sometimes I wonder, Why do I bother talking, and then I laugh: life’s a racket. The mother’s, the teacher’s, the lover’s complaint is the content of everyone’s dread. Talking converts pillar into hydrant, word into police, touch into plots, person into a plastic clown statue that rocks and rights. I said some things to them: and then I saw that I was not just about to lose a lot of world, but had already lost it.



Sitting with the loss of the world requires a supple affective infrastructure, or a religion, which I reject, as I prefer not to be triangulated. If you’re a kind of thing whose lack of fit is endemic, if you sense that the bad life is impersonal and political while also overclose, it structures living as organically as anything about you, such as having had the trunk of your own body your whole life, stretching, bloating, twisting, holding you up, taking blows, manufacturing joys in the cracks, and being outlined by fabric that discloses so little that nakedness is always jolting.

Echo chamber, train wreck, student, supplicant, cheerleader-critic.

My professional friends are quite close friends, my friends know how to be a friend, and this is not a large set. Someone said, “We’re confused by your fidelity to someone like that,” and I reposted, oh, the queer flails to invest and collaborate, no? . . . These are not the phrases I would like to forget, though. I want to take the world in. Even good objects threaten: there’s no other way. For so long my mottoes were “No More Loss” and “Don’t Eat Poison.” Apparently, the motto measures a failure.


What is forgetting, anyway? Arendt writes about the unforgiveable, unretractable statement, the event that cannot not have happened, and the confidence theft that cannot be returned. Things can be misremembered but not not remembered. She’s writing about sentences between people, but also about genocides. Acknowledgement is what’s left. It enables the admission that, as Probyn writes, x is not the worst thing that’s ever happened. Alongside awkwardness, projection, exploitation, and frankness, there are other difficulties.

If you wouldn’t mind, close your eyes and type out one hundred words on what this analogy means to you, and then open your eyes.

Piece crossposted with Supervalent Thought