The Existence of Forgetting Has Never Been Proved

Friedrich Nietzsche? Thomas De Quincey? W. H. Auden? Louis Kronenberger? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A provocative comment about human memory has been attributed to the controversial philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to mind when we want them.

This statement suggests that human memory is more capacious than we imagine, but recollection is hampered because retrieval is sometimes difficult. As an experimental psychologist researching the plasticity of human memory I find this perspective fascinating, and I would like to include the statement in an article under preparation. Unfortunately, the lack of a good citation is problematic. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1881 Friedrich Nietzsche released “Morgenröthe: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurtheile” which has been given the English title “The Dawn of Day”. The work consisted of more than 550 short numbered sections, and in the 126th Nietzsche discussed memory and forgetfulness. The beginning of this excerpt from a 1911 translation by J. M. Kennedy strongly matched the quotation under examination. The full passage was somewhat convoluted. Boldface has been added to excerpts 1 2

FORGETFULNESS.—It has never yet been proved that there is such a thing as forgetfulness: all that we know is that we have no power over recollection. In the meantime we have filled up this gap in our power with the word “forgetfulness,” exactly as if it were another faculty added to our list. But, after all, what is within our power? If that word fills up a gap in our power, might not the other words be found capable of filling up a gap in the knowledge which we possess of our power?

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1911, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Dr. Oscar Levy, Volume 9: The Dawn of Day, Translated by J. M. Kennedy, Section 126, Quote Page 131, Published by T. N. Foulis, Edinburgh. (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  2. 1924 (Copyright 1911), The Dawn of Day by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by J. M. Kennedy, Section 126, Quote Page 131, Published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London. (Reprint of 1911 edition) (Internet Archive) link link