Future nostalgia

The English Department at Rhodes University recently ran a symposium on nostalgia (“Nostalgia and disillusionment in the Southern African literary imaginary”) and having had a recent visit from Jacob Dlamini (author of the still-controversial Native Nostalgia), I decided to attend. Probably the most interesting insight of the day was shared by a few of the presenters and came from a very interesting Russian academic (who died this year) called Svetlana Boym which deals with how nostalgia affects the future.

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Svetlana Boym

In fact Boym, an academic and artist (essays, plays, photography) fled the USSR for the US in 1981 and made the dealing with the past via nostalgia central to all her work and ideas. This very startling idea (which is the title of her book on the issue, The Future of Nostalgia) is encapsulated in a paper called “Nostalgia and its Discontents“.  Boym says: “Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.” She goes on to say that nostalgia is most often connected to loss of home or place but actually it is a longing for a different time — “better time, or slower time — time out of time not encumbered by appointment books”.

But then comes the very interesting thought: nostalgia is not always retrospective, “it can be prospective as well” — “the fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, have a direct impact on the realities of the future”. Continue reading “Future nostalgia”