Power and Forgetting

Power and Forgetting May 4, 2018

Source: Pixabay.com

At the end of the anime series Berserk 2017, viewers would finally have an explanation of the association between the title and its iron slab/sword wielding protagonist, Guts. So just so you know, there are spoiler alerts.

In earlier story arcs, Guts is a mercenary who in battle after battle, demonstrates an ability to defy the virtually-divine law governing the movements of his universe: the laws of causality. This would come in handy too, seeing that Guts’ main antagonist is himself a divine being named Griffith. Griffith, it must be said, was a man who betrayed his entire band of knights to be sacrificed in order to fulfil his desire for a kingdom, and ends up being transformed into the demon Femto.

As part of his quest to get to Griffith/Femto, Guts acquires the Berserker armour. The armour aids in his defiance of the laws of causality by enhancing his speed, strength and endurance, causing Guts to go berserk, as the name suggests.

In the course of gaining such power, however, the resultant frenzy of fighting causes Guts to take on not only his enemies, but his friends as well. The reason being that, in the course of gaining such immense power, Guts begins to forget not only his friends, but also himself. At least twice, Guts has to be reminded of his own identity and those of others through the aid of his friends.

The link between power and forgetting was something I also picked up on in Smeagol/Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. The hobbit Smeagol, wielding his own power over his kinsman in to obtain the ring, later narrates his own process of forgetting, of bread, of trees, of wind, of his own name.

Both of these, it seems, highlights the coming together of two major themes in Augustine’s theological work. The first sin as a power grab, a lust for domination”. The other is evil, not as a self-sustaining living reality, but as the privation of the good, a parasite that reduces that which really exists. In particular, what Guts and Gollum bring to the fore is the nexus that joins evil, power, and the dissolving of memory, and the slide from acquiring power to forgetting one’s kin and oneself.

The seed to forgetting is planted, not just in the desire for power, but also in the resultant isolation that immediately follows. In Berserk, Guts is visually presented as the lone, mad swordsman hacking away at scores of men and demons. In the course of his descent from Smeagol to Gollum, the hobbit weeps at his “being so alone”.

Conversely, what also comes out in Augustine’s work is the need for another to remind us of our true identity. In the case of his Confessions, the presence of his mother, his friends and through them, the Lord himself, is what leads to the restoration of himself. Meanwhile, it is Frodo who reminds Gollum of his name, while Guts’ memory must be jolted from the intoxicating swirl of power of his armour through the intervention of the witch Schierke.

Seen in this Augustinian light, communion then is not merely a sociological extra, but something essential to the maintenance of the self. Communion, as I suggest in my book on zombies, is not a platform for the erasure of self. Rather, it is the very means by which that which is other, namely the God who is closer to me than I am to myself, can be brought closer.

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