Saturday, 11 August 2018
I'm finding that the more I think about nostalgia, the more the process becomes one of a sort of infinite regress. If returning to my teenage home provoked a wash of deeply personal nostalgia, that nostalgia itself felt timeless. I wonder if that was part of the appeal of the emotion - that it felt like one which remains intact despite all the change. In other words, it's not just the sense of stability in the past which is sentimentally appealing - but it's the sense of stability of that longing itself which makes it so comforting. And whilst the stability of the past is clearly an illusion - after all the past is lost and gone forever - , so is the stability of nostalgia a misnomer.
Indulging in a haze of nostalgia may feel timeless, but like many other emotions, it needs to be historicized (this call was effectively expressed in a special edition of the journal Parergon 2016). It seems clear from psychological studies that there is a core of emotions involved in nostalgia which transcend most cultural differences, and which are deeply rooted in our humanity. But there are many aspects of nostalgia which differ quite dramatically from place to place, period to period, culture to culture. What we are nostalgic for and what provokes nostalgia? How do we express nostalgia? Is nostalgia deemed a radical or reactionary set of feelings? How does the personal experience of nostalgia interweave with collective longings for the past? What is the particular constellation of emotions provoked by nostalgia?
These questions go far beyond the semantics of nostalgia - and even in periods without a word for this longing for the past, they offer insights into that bittersweet sense of longing and loss.