Nostalgias

Critical Horizons 1 (1):113-133 (2000)
Abstract
This paper launches a thought experiment the aim of which is to recover and defend an idea of nostalgia as something other than merely maudlin yearning after the days of yore. Much critical comment on nostalgia, in everyday parlance and in academic debate, begins from the standpoint that the time longed for was never really as it is now, nostalgically, imagined. The force and validity of this jibe is admitted in this paper, but it argues that the concept of nostalgia can be reshaped and turned in quite different less reactive directions. A distinction between Nostalgia and nostalgias is coined in order to introduce a plural and critical version of nostalgic memory. The play of memory in nostalgias is exemplified through a focus on four topoi of experience which are strained, possibly even shattered, by the digitalisation and rationalisation of contemporary culture and society. Nostalgias of and for the body, nature, thought, and modernity itself are explored by comparison to themes of melancholy and utopia which arise in Frankfurt School critical theory as responses to a similarly perceived trauma and triumph of instrumental reason. I argue that ultimately the distinction between nostalgias and Nostalgia cannot be maintained - nostalgias are rather types or tropes of Nostalgia. However, through thinking Nostalgia along the lines of this neologism (nostalgias) we might come to see its dynamic and critical mnemonic potencies. Hence, the paper concludes that nostalgia ought not be simply contemned and dismissed as the conservative freezing of memories and images of a fake past.
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