It has been not quite a year since I last worked on file destruction at my workplace, and I find myself at it again, thinking on it again. Last time, I noted that the task sat ill with me, the need to get rid of information conflicting with my scholar’s attitude towards understanding, my medievalist’s lament at how little we know because of how much we have lost. And I am not unmindful of the associations between fascist and other, similarly oppressive systems and the destruction of knowledge–and I do not want to be associated therewith any more than I necessarily am because of the positions of privilege I occupy. But I am also mindful of the rights of the penitent to be forgiven, of those who have grown to have at least some of their earlier days forgotten–for I am still mindful that I have done things I would rather not have remembered, even if I seem unable to forget them.
I still feel some unease at the task, to be sure. But perhaps I have done it enough that it is not such a shock, anymore. And perhaps my own increasing removal from academe is helping matters; I am less sentimental about the cultures of knowledge creation and knowledge retention now than I was before. I would like to think that I more carefully curate what I keep, though it is likely more a matter of my being less apt to acquire things now than I was before than of my being more selective about keeping the things I do acquire–and with the records of my workplace, while I recall that they are testimonies of human experience, they are not mine to keep or discard. All I can do, all I should do, is follow the guidelines of my institution with respect to them, and consign to destruction those records that have passed our retention policy.
I cannot help but glance at a few as I do, though, and I wonder about those who are my age or near to it, those who have names I dimly remember from years gone by, when I was young and thought the world was. I wonder about one man, already old when he entered our records, likely dead now; is he remembered elsewhere, or is my destruction of his client file the elimination of one of the last memories held of him? I know that way lies madness, though; I know that to hold onto things for thought that they are the last comments on one person or another means that nothing can be allowed to pass away, but there are things that ought to be allowed to die.
Immortality is a greater burden to bear than any ought to be asked to shoulder. I content myself with the thought that I am sparing some from it.