Dear Callie,

<>       The way you so aptly chide me about the importance of forgetfulness:  That might be a  useful thing to say to a professor of our generation, yours and mine, but no longer for those of the twenty-first century.  Professors had by that time long since become trapeze artists performing for momentary applause. A bureaucracy of non literate functionaries ran their big top, with bankers and money lenders the barkers. 

        Still,  I do like your metaphorical formulation.  It reveals your preoccupation with getting it right, artistically.  Permit me a somewhat more prosaic, even physiological understanding of memory.  Forgetting means a loss to consciousness of some earlier impression.  Yet the impression in the nerve cells need not be lost at all, but only employed into larger combinations.  That is to say, we still know it, but as a part of some larger understanding.

     The history of science shows how this natural process of learning and forgetting can be observed from generation to generation.  Goethe believes that life forms appear as variants on a central pattern.  He arranges his collection of mammalian skulls one beside the other so as to display each as minutest variant on its nearest neighbors.  He belives these differences show necessary adaptation to diverse physical environments, for life in his view is at one with its natural surroundings.  As the new industrialism's need for coal and iron uncovers an abundance of curious fossils, Goethe's concept furthers development in the scientific mind.  Numerous extinct creatures attest to vast stretches of time totally lacking any familiar life forms at all.  Change is brought forcefully to the forefront of scientific consciousness--so many species emerging, disappearing.  The problem finds expression in Darwin's oft repeated tautology, "survival of the fittest."   For the moment, Goethe's crucial ecological perception is quite "forgotten"--only to become urgent two hundred years later.  Obviously his thought was never really lost, but incorporated into mankind's developing conceptualization of interdependent life forms.

       I am suggesting that an individual mind must proceed in an analogous way.  Individual consciousness summates a vast population of nerve impulses, attractions and reactions in its delicately balanced chemical "broth."  As new impressions fall in from without, sparks are set off within; new combinations are linked, while old connections fade.  Our mind has the capability of retaining the new impressions, but organizes them in context with others long since received and integrated with yet earlier ones.  Every new impression is taken up into the context of the problem on which the mind is focused.  As the old becomes part of a new formulation it may be promptly "forgotten" precisely because of its new importance.  I might conclude (with one of Goethe's favorite analogies) that remembering and forgetting are the vital systole and diastole of a growing, changing mind.

                                                                         With love and kisses, your

                                                                                                                 JW

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                  or see the correspondence with Katherine Anne Porter.