That forgetfulness constitutes a force detrimental to the ability of keeping promises is commonplace. Promises rely on a stable memory; in order to be realized they must be sheltered from the onslaught of oblivion. This article takes a closer look at the mutual exclusivity of promising and its forgetting— and discovers, at the very foundation of every promise, the unlikely expression of a promise of oblivion. Through readings of Sacher-Masoch, Nietzsche, Kafka, and others, this promise of oblivion emerges as the very condition of possibility of all promising: oblivion must be promised for promises to be. Thus, what on the surface seems mutually exclusive turns out essentially entangled: promising premised on oblivion. In a coda invoking Heidegger and Blanchot, the structure of language itself is revealed to be promissory—and, as such, forgetful.
The Promise of Oblivion: A Rhetorical Predicament in Sacher-Masoch, Nietzsche, and Beyond
dominik zechner is an assistant professor of German in the Department of German, Russian and East European Languages and Literatures at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He received his PhD from New York University, where he held a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship in the Humanities. During the 2019–20 academic year, he was the Artemis A. W. and Martha Joukowsky Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University’s Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. His most recent publications have appeared in The Yearbook of Comparative Literature, Translation and Literature, and the Oxford Literary Review.
Dominik Zechner; The Promise of Oblivion: A Rhetorical Predicament in Sacher-Masoch, Nietzsche, and Beyond. differences 1 September 2021; 32 (2): 94–121. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-9309359
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