Tag Archives: Boston Bombings

On Boston and Forgetting

Sigmund Freud has a very short piece titled “A Noted upon the ‘Mystic Writing Pad'” where he discusses a technological metaphor for memory and the subconscious. The Mystic Writing Pad was this notepad type thing that was composed of a clear plastic sheet, a piece of paper under it and a piece of some wax/clay thing under it that would allow for imprints to reflect back to the user. Allowing for these notes to be kept for as long as the user desires, the sheet of plastic and paper can be lifted up to erase the notes they once held. Freud makes the parallel to memory and the subconscious through the ability of the wax to hold the messages once on the surface while mixing and matching all the things that had once been imprinted onto it from the user’s experience.

Currently, Boston’s Mystic Writing Pad is one which has the events of the past week firmly collected and archived, displaying the events boldly. The emotions and the events are writ large for Boston, but I really hope that both the city and the inhabitants of this country can go forward and collectively lift the paper from the pad and try to forget.

I’ve been trying to write a piece on the bombings and the subsequent search of Boston for some time now and I have had a lot of trouble. I am not a Bostonian. I grew up about 45 minutes south of the city. My uncle lived in Cambridge for most of my life and now lives about 20 minutes north of Boston. I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years in undergrad living with a friend of mine in Wakefield, another semi-suburb of the city and worked in South Boston as an intern. I have a ton of memories of the city and I haven’t really been able to make much sense of what has been going on.

It isn’t all that easy for me to say it, but Boston needs to forget.

This is not a very new thought. Forgetting is seen by many as a negative object. The assumption is that we are losing something when we forget it, but we must understand that it can also be a positive and productive process. We must be able to replace the ever-consistent response to tragedy of “Never Forget,” with an understanding that forgetting may be better off than constantly remembering. Some can never forget. They will be constantly reminded by the events or will have such trauma imprinted upon them physically and psychologically that it will stay with them forever. I understand that. I understand that my distance from this allows for me to even broach this subject and suggest that we forget.

Forgetting might allow us to see what will follow this more rationally. Maybe we will be able to react in a way that doesn’t view these actions and people as ordinary. We got caught up in this idea that terrorists were the norm after 9/11 and while these are completely different events that need to be handled in completely different ways, I am terrified of the differences not being understood, leading to similarities in the responses.

It is in the attempt to forget that Freud’s metaphor runs straight into the ground, just as many metaphors used eventually do. They lose their ground somewhere. They can only go so far. The wax that sits behind the screen of paper is one which is imprinted permanently upon the experience. Memory doesn’t fade, it just becomes jumbled with the multitude of other imprints upon our memory, when we discuss the Mystic Writing Pad. But we should not take this dead end as a dead end to forgetting. We should acknowledge the labor that is required in forgetting, just as there is labor in erasing the totality of the Mystic Writing Pad. The user is required to melt down the wax, or knead it until the marks of the stylus of experience no longer show. Forgetting is difficult at times, especially when in temporal proximity to the event itself.

I honestly don’t know if forgetting would help at all. I don’t know if this piece of writing matters in any way, shape or form either. I’m just starting to think that there is something to trying something different. And, honestly, what is more different from “Never Forget,” than “Work to Forget”? How about we give it a try.

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Thoughts on Identity and the Boston Manhunt

I’ve been watching quite a bit of the CNN coverage and this morning, in a discussion with their Counter Terrorism expert, one reporter constantly referred to the context of what was going on with the two suspects.

I’m left wondering from this sort of situation, what is the text that is in relation with the context that they seem to be constantly look for? Is it the lives of the Tsarnaev brothers? I think it is instead what I keep hearing referred to as this different event, that which is invoked each time that it is suggested there is something else that had to have occurred to these brothers for their ability to carry out the bombings. There had to be something, we keep being told by CNN, to explain for the contradictory existence of the Tsarnaev brothers. There is no way that there could be a compassionate human being one year who decides, the next year, to build a few bombs and put them at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

I think what we have in this case, specifically of CNN’s coverage, is a problem of how we view identity. We believe that there has to be a consistency because of the economic and political necessity for consistency. We hope for consistency at all times. Actions and movement through space are taken down in concrete ways (data points, tweets, immigration forms, education) and these concrete points of identity are moved above and beyond any other ways an identity can be discussed. This is the best that we have when it comes to identity. Identity is nothing now but a set of points that are collected and the assumption always is that the more points collected will automatically lead to a better understanding of the individual.

I’d like to say that this is an extraordinary instance of identity, but this is nothing new. Identity was assumed to be something that was solely created by the individual. Identity was assumed to be a pliable, evolving object which could never be fully stopped, as the individual had to have the burden of taking on their identity and forming and creating it. Instead, identity needs to be seen more through this instantiation lens. The individual is created at different points in time based upon their identifying characteristics. They are assembled by various mediums and put together for the purpose of better understanding, but usually for the actual purpose of creating audiences for advertisers.

I think this is where we see the tensions of identity occurring on CNN. If identity was simply the evolution of the individual person, then there would probably not be the assumed contradictions at hand. However, since all that they can understand of the younger Tsarnaev brother at this time is a handful of data points, it is difficult to reconcile them with the actions of the individuals. One reporter, speaking on the Tweets of the younger brother, stated, “Very different looks of who this man could be.” There is such a tension here that most of the peers of the younger brother are unable to comprehend even what occurred.


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