My title may seem a bit pretentious, but it poses the central question of Francis O’Gorman’s 2017 book, Forgetfulness: Making the Modern Culture of Amnesia.
I interviewed Francis yesterday on ‘Church and Culture,” to be aired this coming weekend, about his rich and unsettling book. Its richness lies in O’Gorman’s seamless intertwining of his expertise in 19th-century English literature, especially the Victorians, and his critique of modernity. Its unsettling because this is not the kind of critique to which we have become accustomed — focused on themes of genocide, moral decline, and subjectivism. O’Gorman rather focuses on the creation of a culture of amnesia, meaning the attempt, since the French Revolution, to postulate life’s meaning without any attention to the past.
This dismissal of tradition, with its deeply rooted narratives what it means to be mortal, entered into the mainstream of Western culture giving birth to a succession of intellectual movements, such as Marxism and Communism, with their promises to create a world of perfect equality. Among intellectuals, this amnesia gave rise to existentialism, phenonmenology, structuralism, deconstruction, multiculturalism, ethnic studies, and gender studies, each one more destructive of our connection to the wisdom of the past than the previous. His insights, however, only begin at a theorectical level but expose the impact at every level of human life, beginning with the millions of millennials walking the streets with their head bowed before the glimmering screens of their iPhones.