Thoughts on the first day of Zoom School
So, what can those who have not seen with their own eyes do to preserve the memories of those who have? How do we ensure that witnesses continue to be heard? In the wake of unimaginable horrors — endless wars, the Holocaust, Chernobyl, Fukushima … not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki — humankind has constantly confronted the problem of the continuity of memory. How do we inscribe within us things that happened long ago and far away that have no apparent connection to our lives, not simply as learned knowledge but exactly as though we had experienced them ourselves? How do we build a fragile bark to carry these memories safely to the far shore, to the minds of the next generation? One thing is certain: It is a task for which political and academic thinking and institutions are poorly suited, quite simply because the act of sharing the memories of another human being is fundamentally an irrational one.
So we appeal to the power of literature, a refuge we turn to when forced to confront contradictions that lie beyond reason or theory. Through the language of literature, we can finally come to empathize with the suffering of nameless and unknown others. Or, at very least, we can force ourselves to stare without flinching at the stupidity of those who have committed unforgivable errors and ask ourselves whether the shadow of this same folly lurks within us as well.
Yoko Ogawa, “How We Retain the Memory of Japan’s Atomic Bombings: Books,” The New York Times, August 6, 2020, sec. Magazine, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/magazine/hiroshima-nagasaki-japan-literature.html.