The Virtual Bookshelf: 'Public Forgetting'

Bradford Vivian, Public Forgetting: The Rhetoric and Politics of Beginning Again (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2010).

Bradford VivianForgetting is usually juxtaposed with memory as its opposite in a negative way: It is seen as the loss of the ability to remember or, ironically, as the inevitable process of distortion or dissolution that accompanies attempts to commemorate the past. The civic emphasis on the crucial importance of preserving lessons from the past to prevent us from repeating mistakes that led to violence and injustice, invoked most poignantly in the call of “Never again” from Holocaust survivors, tends to promote a view of forgetting as verging on sin or irresponsibility. In this book, Bradford Vivian hopes to put a much more positive spin on forgetting by elucidating its constitutive role in the formation and transformation of public memory. Using examples ranging from classical rhetoric to contemporary crises such as 9/11, Public Forgetting demonstrates how, contrary to conventional wisdom, communities may adopt idioms of forgetting in order to create new and beneficial standards of public judgment concerning the lessons and responsibilities of their shared past.

In Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Greg Dickinson noted that “Vivian’s attention to the historical understandings of the relations of memory and forgetting ground his study while his astute textual readings of instances of public forgetting offer nuanced and textured elaborations of his theoretical concerns.”

“The signal contribution of Public Forgetting,” writes Katherine Mack in Rhetoric & Public Affairs, “is its reminder of the intimate relationship of remembrance and forgetting. Appeals to remember are simultaneously, implicitly or explicitly, appeals to forget (and vice versa). By inviting readers to adopt this more complex appreciation of their interplay, Vivian sets a new critical standard for future scholarship in the field.”

In 2011, Vivian received the National Communication Association's Winans-Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address for Public Forgetting.

Bradford Vivian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University. In addition to Public Forgetting, Vivian is the author of Being Made Strange: Rhetoric Beyond Representation (SUNY Press, 2004) and the co-editor of Rhetoric, Remembrance, and Visual Form: Sighting Memory (Routledge, 2012).

Public Forgetting has a Facebook page.