The Future of Nostalgia

Svetlana Boym

I loved the concept of this book but eventually had to accept that it was a bit more academic than I wanted it to be. But that enabled me to just skip to the parts I wanted to read instead of feeling like I had to read every word. That may sound like a lackluster recommendation, but I’m sure to return to this book and skim again.

Nostalgia, like progress, is dependent on the modern conception of unrepeatable and irreversible time. The romantic nostalgic insisted on the otherness of his object of nostalgia from his present life and kept it at a safe distance. The object of romantic nostalgia must be beyond the present space of experience, somewhere in the twilight of the past or on the island of utopia where time has happily stopped, as on an antique clock. At the same time, romantic nostalgia is not a mere antithesis to progress; it undermines both a linear conception of progress and a Hegelian dialectical teleology. The nostalgic directs his gaze not only backward but sideways, and expresses himself in elegiac poems and ironic fragments, not in philosophical or scientific treatises. Nostalgia remains unsystematic and unsynthesizable; it seduces rather than convinces.