The word ‘nostalgia’ originates from the terms ‘nostos’, which means ‘to return’, and ‘algos’, which means ‘pain’ (Trigg 2006, 53). Therefore, nostalgia has mostly been a representation of the ‘pain’ a person feels when s/he is not with his/her loved ones or away from his/her dear homeland. This essay discusses the potential problems with using nostalgia to represent the past.
What is Nostalgia?
The term ‘nostalgia’ plainly means ‘homesickness’ or ‘home-longing.’ In the book The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boyn develops the two expressions of nostalgic sentiment, a ‘reflective nostalgia’, which “dwells in longing and loss” and a ‘restorative nostalgia’, which refers to ‘nostos’ and suggests to “rebuild the lost home” (Scott 2010, 45). It was Johannes Hofer who first used the word ‘nostalgia’ in 1688. Hofer enumerated several indications of nostalgia, namely, weakened senses, weakness, quickened heartbeat, insomnia, anxiety, sadness, etc. For Hofer, nostalgia is a physical illness caused by brain disorders (Naqvi 2007, 10). Between the 18th and 19th century nostalgia was assumed to be, to a certain extent, a psychosomatically illness brought about by internal struggles. Psychoanalytic accounts linking nostalgia to a childhood trauma and the desire to go back to the mother’s womb were widespread throughout the 20th century (Naqvi 2007, 10-11).
. On the other hand, counter to the disagreements on the roots of nostalgia there was strong agreement until the mid-20th century to categorise nostalgia as an illness. During this period nostalgia was specifically linked to depression. However, in the 1970s the meaning and image of nostalgia fully transformed. It was at this time that nostalgia shifted from a longing for home to a longing for time, specifically for the past. As a result, nostalgia started to be differentiated from ‘home-longing’ (Koneke 2011, 5). In addition, although nostalgia was previously interpreted from the point of view of the individual in the 1970s nostalgia turned out to be a sociological occurrence as well. Social scientists linked nostalgia to a perspective of demise in humanity, particularly a demise in morality and unity, and with a longing for peace, genuineness, and nature. This newly formed social viewpoint resulted further in the development of a new viewpoint on nostalgia, namely, a collective nostalgia (Koneke 2011, 5). Understanding the nature of nostalgia has actually been very difficult. Even though nostalgia was originally regarded to be a depressing or melancholic illness whilst it is currently rather regarded to be pleasurable, most professionals who have been looking at nostalgia have recognised that nostalgia involves favourable and unfavourable sentiments at the same time. In fact, nostalgia is largely regarded as a bittersweet feeling, a bipolar sentiment which merges pleasure with anguish, affection with pain, and happiness with sadness (Sprengler 2011, 14). Nostalgia’s bittersweet essence is largely either due to experiencing at the same time past pleasure and existing anguish, or to the problem of simultaneously longing to break away from the need to accept the present and into the past. Even though there is widespread agreement that nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion there is a certain debate, whether the happy or the melancholic aspects dominate. A number of scholars, particularly psychoanalysts, have deduced from case narratives that the central features of nostalgia are disillusionment, anxiety, and grief (Koneke 2011, 5-6). To sum up the