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Cassandra Forgetting

In rec.arts.books someone enquired about books upon the theme of Cassandra forgetting. This inspired to compose a little essay in my best literary babble style. Babble on, Richard, babble on.

Would not Cassandra Forgetting be a fine title for a book? What would be in it, I wonder. I don't even know what should be in it. Perhaps Cassandra Forgetting is an ordinary psychological novel in which the protagonist becomes as an older person what they foresaw (and wished not to be) when they were younger.

It is commonplace that the young [not all, perhaps, but many] see what the older adults have done and become, deplore it and swear great oaths not to follow deplored paths, and then, in the fullness of time, proceed to become and do that which they deplored. We (or they, if you prefer) have or have had a little Cassandra in us, a Cassandra who sees an unwanted future, futilely warns us (themselves) against it, a Cassandra who somehow forgets that warning and enacts that future.

There is a story here to be told, two of them really, one of a young man and one of a young woman. He becomes the father he foreswore; she becomes the mother she foreswore. How does that happen? How does the great eraser of time erase? How does Cassandra forget?

One could write such a novel. Others have. Zapata becomes that which he fought the revolution against.

And yet it is not that simple. The dead past lives on in dusty little traces. The eraser does not remove all of the chalk from the board. One can reconstruct the past; one does; or does one? Is not the reconstruction an invention? Perhaps the reconstruction does more violence to the reality than mere time can do. Do we finally slay Cassandra and her unwanted message precisely by recalling her and honoring her? Can we? Or does her trace live in that past which we do not recall, which we have forgotten to recall.

This strays from our theme. It is about forgetting Cassandra rather than Cassandra forgetting. Or is it? Perhaps they are two sides of the same thing. Perhaps our selves are like the mobius strip which appears to have two sides but only has one. The analogy has a striking feature; in the mobius strip we cannot reach the opposite side which is the same directly and immediately. No, we must traverse its entirety to start from Cassandra forgetting to arrive at forgetting Cassandra. Our mobius strip of life has features which the mathematicians toy does not. We can traverse ours in but one direction. It comes with two doors, the door of light from which we come, and the door of darkness into which we pass.

But do we want to do this? Do we want to reveal this process, this immanence of archetype, in the particular rubble of a particular life. Perhaps yes, because each bit of rubble has its own story and its own life. The real is richer and less pure than the archetype. Perhaps no, perhaps we should install ourselves squarely in the valley of myth amidst the archetypes. Let it be Cassandra, the Cassandra of myth, if we dare. Let us invent myth, whether we fail like Vergil, or succeed like Dante.

How do we do this thing? We have the materials, these great human obsessions with foretelling and forgetting. Do we parse them and analyze them? We can, you know. In doing so we risk arriving at the dead shell, a cocoon with its life juices sucked out. And yet if we do not we remain in the jungle of superstition, caterpillars that never became butterflies. That is all right; the caterpillar is a creature of myth too. So let us parse and analyze and do the science, explore the themes, explore the logic behind the themes, and explore that which is not logic behind the logic. Let us take our thought into the cocoon and out again, to bring forth not the butterfly of life but the butterfly of myth.

Can we do this? Who knows? Myth making always retreats to that place which is not catalogued and illuminated. The myth we make is not the story we sought to tell. Mayhaps we should ask with our Eastern friends:

Who writes Cassandra Forgetting?

I know not. I only wrote the essay.

This page was last updated May 20, 1997.