Philip Gourevitch is the author of a fine and important book on the Rwandan genocide. I am therefore surprised to see him expressing this too simple view about memory, in connection with genocide, in an interview at the Boston Review:
[W]hat really interests me ultimately is not to record the past, so much as how people live with the past and get on with it. There's a kind of fetishization of memory in our culture. Some of it comes from the experience and the memorial culture of the Holocaust - the injunction to remember. And it also comes from the strange collision of Freud and human rights thinking - the belief that anything that is not exposed and addressed and dealt with is festering and going to come back to destroy you. This is obviously not true. Memory is not such a cure-all. On the contrary, many of the great political crimes of recent history were committed in large part in the name of memory. The difference between memory and grudge is not always clean. Memories can hold you back, they can be a terrible burden, even an illness. Yes, memory - hallowed memory - can be a kind of disease. That's one of the reasons that in every culture we have memorial structures and memorial days, whether for personal grief or for collective historical traumas. Because you need to get on with life the rest of the time and not feel the past too badly. I'm not talking about letting memory go. The thing is to contain memory, and then, on those days, or in those places, you can turn on the tap and really touch and feel it. The idea is not oblivion or even denial of memory. It's about not poisoning ourselves with memory.
Some of what Gourevitch says here makes good sense. It can be better - better for those aggrieved - to put the past behind them rather than let it eat away. This may be true in public as in personal life. The glancing allusion to Freud makes the necessary point: memories can indeed 'hold you back'. Equally, what he says about containing memory puts proper emphasis on giving priority to the 'aims of life'.
On the other hand, linking memory with the bearing of a grudge narrows its functions. The difference between memory and grudge, says Gourevitch, is 'not always clean'. Not always; but that leaves open the possibility, which is in fact a reality, that memory can also have nothing whatever to do with grudge. In the given context, remembering genocide, memory can be not about nourishing a grievance, but about educating those who do not know, or do not know enough, or those who deflect the grim truths about what human beings can sometimes do (and very quickly), with false comforts drawn from 'normal' times and lucky places. It's not only about marking terrible wrongs when they have been done, out of respect for the victims, though this has its own importance; it's also about the world, even at this late date, needing to learn and understand.
(See my series of which this post is the most recent and which was conceived with the rationale I've argued for above.)