The power of forgetting: Ressentiment, guilt, and transformative politics

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Though long regarded as an injustice in its own right, willed forgetting is currently enjoying something of a revival in politics. Concerned by the threat memory poses to both the peace and vitality of the state, critics have championed forgetting for its power to release us from ressentiment and begin anew. In this article, I take a closer look at Nietzsche's conception of willed forgetfulness, specifically as it is set out in On the Genealogy of Morals, to bring out what contemporary critics of the “surfeit of memory” seem happy to ignore: Namely, that a certain kind of cruelty, either against others or towards oneself, is the sine qua non of forgetting. Drawing on Freud as a supplement, I argue that many of the symptoms critics ascribe to the surfeit of memory—the culture of victimhood, the tyranny of guilt, the displacement of action, and the eclipse of visionary modes of imagining the future—may in actual fact be the product of forgetting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-683
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • conflict
  • memory
  • ressentiment
  • guilt
  • forgetting
  • Nietzsche
  • Freud

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