As individuals, over lifetimes, there is much that we never know, and of what we do know, much that we forget. As societies this also holds, as Eduardo Galeano’s writings remind us. And for both individuals and societies, there are detectable patterns to what is remembered, what is forgotten. These patterns draw themselves via relationships over time between discernable parts that make up vaguely discernable wholes. These patterns can be explored at various scales; indeed, are most often explored at the cognitive and individual levels. Here, we tackle the unwieldy and evanescent scale of ‘whole’ eco-social systems to trace several salient patterns in the interplay between forgetting and remembering. We consider the implications for lived experience, social justice, and human ecosystems in deep time. In a first essay we experiment with communicating these coarse-scale explorations in the first instance as graphic models, using a creative panoply of visual metaphors to sketch perceived patterns such as shifting baselines of knowledge, cognitive dialectics between abilities and vulnerabilities, and the magnetic dance between identities and life histories. In the invisible art of the graphic model, the viewer/ reader participates by imagining the subject matter as it is lived in their own lives and the reflective interaction of those thoughts with the meanings in the images ‘on paper’ create a liminal space in which the models come alive.
Though our approach is playful and open-ended in conceptualizing and depicting the processes of forgetting and remembering, we acknowledge the importance—personal and cultural—of remembering the sobering and structurally persistent aspect of the U.S. social system crucial to its founding: the institution of slavery and other systematic injustices. As an (eco)social system the U.S. is an apt case in being situated at an extreme on the spectrum of societies reliant on an economic deep underclass. It’s relatively short history, extraordinarily rapid exploitation of resources, brash ethos, and loud metanarratives make it easier to scrutinize than some societies. As native-born ethnographers in this analysis, we draw on our personal and community experiences as Euro-settler citizens, descendants of privilege, struggle, and migration. In Wyndham’s case, there is also a personal interest in excavating the responsibilities of knowledge and action incumbent upon her as a descendant of Alabama plantation owners who profited from enslaved workers. Both authors currently live in Athens, Georgia, a community with deep entanglements with slavery, erasure, and protracted injustice, as well as a persistent strand of remembering, reclaiming, and nascent acknowledgements of how the past informs our present and our future.