Monday, 25 February 2019


Sunday with the boys was really idyllic.  (Lest I seem too smug, life is full of challenges, and Saturday involved a 12-hour car journey, and someone hitting us on the motorway).  The spring sunshine was soul-warming, my older son spent the majority of his time up a tree or upside-down, and we explored streams and woodlands and an old half-buried plough-share.

I felt something akin to nostalgia.  A warm, bittersweet feeling - a sense of how fleeting time is, and the impossibility of grasping something so lovely and holding onto it.

I'm reading George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier at the moment.  In a passage about half-way through the book, he describes a very similar kind of nostalgia for a present which feels so fleeting that it is bound up with a sort of loss.  His purpose is highly critical and political, but there is this same sense of transience.

'The picture I have called up, of a working-class family sitting round the coal fire after kippers and strong tea, belongs only to our own moment of time and could not belong either to the future or to the past.  Skip forward two hundred years into the Utopian future, and the scene is totally different.  Hardly one of the things I have imagined will still be there. […] Curiously enough it is not the triumphs of modern engineering, nor the radio, nor the cinematograph, nor the five thousand novels which are published yearly, nor the crowds at Ascot and the Eton and Harrow match, but the memory of working-class interiors […] that reminds me that our age has not been altogether a bad one to live in'.

Feeling nostalgic for one's own time because it feels so transient might seem contradictory.  But in some ways it cuts to the heart of what nostalgia is.  The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa associated nostalgia with modernity because of what he called 'the social acceleration of time'.  The idea is that post-industrialisation, there is a quickening not only of the pace of production, but a shift in our experience of time.  There is less breathing space and everything feels constantly in flux. Nostalgia, in this reading, is the longing for a the perceived stability of the past.  It follows then, that in periods of what feels like acute change, one might experience the present with a sense of nostalgia. Or, put differently, that a feeling of nostalgia for the present is a symptom of rapid change.

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