Ricoeur Across the Disciplines Paperback. Not registered? Forgotten password Please enter your email address below and we'll send you a link to reset your password. Not you? Forgotten password? Forgotten password Use the form below to recover your username and password. New details will be emailed to you. Simply reserve online and pay at the counter when you collect. Available in shop from just two hours, subject to availability. That question is the philosophical problem of personal identity. It is commonly assumed that when people want to persist, what they really want is simply to persist - that is, that their desire to persist cannot be derived from any more fundamental desire.
That answer is the thesis that identity is primarily what matters in survival. All of the readings in the present anthology are devoted either to answering the philosophical problem of personal identity or to testing the claim that identity is primarily what matters in survival, or both. Inserted into the introductory essay are some classic readings by Locke and Reid. Otherwise all of the readings included have been published since , which is about the time that personal identity theory made a new beginning. The present anthology represents the issues that have emerged in the wake of this new beginning.
Kolak and R. Martin, eds. The Experience of Philosophy , 4th edn and 5th edn. In the late 17th century, nostalgic reminiscences were thought to be the symptoms of a deadly disease that shook one's mind and body. Today, we view nostalgia not as a medical condition, but as a bittersweet recollection of one's past joys and sorrows--the memories and treasures of an earlier self. And yet, there remains a category of individuals for whom such recollection can be seriously problematic: immigrants.
In Yesterday's Self , Andreea Ritivoi explores the philosophical and historical dimensions of nostalgia in the lives of immigrants, forging a connection between current trends in the philosophy of identity and intercultural studies. The book considers such questions as, Does attachment to one's native culture preclude or merely influence adaptation into a new culture?
Do we fashion our identity in interdependence with others, or do we shape it in a non-contingent frame? Is it possible to assimilate in an unfamiliar world without risking self-alienation? Ritivoi's response: nostalgia is both the poison and the cure in such situations.
Documenting the tribulations of sojourners and immigrants, Yesterday's Self illustrates how and why the cultural adjustment of immigrants can only happen when personal identity is understood as a quest for continuity in one's life story, even alongside the most radical cultural rupture. Ultimately, reflection on the nostalgic experience reveals insights into the nature of the self and its dynamic engagement with otherness and difference.
Excerpt: In the s, about eight million immigrants from all over the world entered the United States; in the s, the number grew to nine million, and it is expected to continue to increase in the future. Without a doubt, the existing research has produced notable results. My primary interest in this book lies in presenting an account that focuses on individual immigrants. Obviously, each of the millions of immigrants who come to the United States and others who go to European countries is an individual, but there is no guarantee that each individual's experience could be successfully inferred from what we know about groups.
In the Western tradition, the concept of individuality has had a long and tortuous history, a comprehensive review of which is well beyond the scope of my work here. Suffice it to say that currently the term individual is used to identify a human being as an autonomous entity, different from all other human beings.
But it is not necessary to posit a constitutive contrast between "individual" and "society" to preserve the meaning of either one as distinct from the other.
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In this book, I am interested in how immigrants deal with the transition from their culture of origin to the culture of adoption. The key element of this transition is adjustment; but before connecting it to a variety of changes. After all, there would not really be a need for adjustment if immigrants could be "born anew" in their country of adoption, released from their memories and from a sense of loyalty and attachment to their past, their native language, and the place where they were born. Although each individual experience has its own defining characteristics, immigration inevitably involves a kind of separation that is often perceived in more dramatic terms as loss-of one's first home, one's first language, one's familiar environment.
Nor is it entirely clear how or whether a person can "move on," and hence, whether adjustment is conceivably possible. Even more important, it raises crucial questions about the very notion of self-identity. If we can start fresh elsewhere-and there are numerous indications that many of us can-is it reasonable to believe that we belong someplace? Is "home" a conventional notion?
Is personal identity shaped by a specific community or can it be transplanted to other communities as well? It is heard in the laments of migrants and those who mourn the despoliation of the planet. But it is also keenly felt at the smallest of scales, in the walk along the street or in the photograph on the mantelpiece. They place nearly everyone in some kind of nostalgic relationship to the world, both near and far. This book demonstrates that a sense of loss plays a significant role in many different aspects of geographical change and choice. From the way we travel and where we travel to; from how and why we value the landscape to where we construct our geopolitical borders, nostalgia animates the geographical imagination and shapes the way we act.
I will be exploring the interconnected nature of modernity, geography and nostalgia. This overall ambition is developed through a number of arguments that seek to change and challenge the way we think about nostalgia. One of the most prominent of these arguments represents a departure from the, increasingly common, attempt to rescue nostalgia for progressive politics. Acknowledging nostalgia pushes us into choppier and less comfortable waters. Ironically, in coming to grips with this seemingly backward-facing topic, old-fashioned political maps have to be abandoned, or at least redrawn.
To recognise the enormous power of loss in the modern world is to seek to understand the role of nostalgia both in our own lives and in the lives of others. To write an unsentimental account of a topic that is inherently sentimental necessitates that we register its diversity and significance but also its contradictions and dilemmas.
And to do so demands that we acknowledge that the geography of nostalgia is not a mere footnote in the story of nostalgia but fundamental to its formation and expression. The earliest English uses of the term are geo-psychological. Yet as nostalgia was demedicalised and adopted as a cultural category in the late nineteenth century, an odd thing happened to it. Not only its geographical origins but its geographical nature began to be neglected. Why nostalgia became less associated with geography and more associated with history and sociology - and, hence, less associated with place and more associated with time - does not have one simple answer.
By the beginning of the last century this shift was almost complete: to be nostalgic was rarely thought of in either medical or geographical terms but simply to be prey to sad and wistful regret in the face of the passing years. Nostalgia came to be seen as an unrooted preference for the past; a preference for history and old-ways. Of course, nostalgia always contains a temporal aspect but to construe that aspect as co-terminus with the condition, or as so dominant as to turn geography into a subordinate context, tells us less about the nature of nostalgia than it does about its conceptual narrowing.
The erosion of the central role that geography once had in our understanding of nostalgia might, in small part, be explained by reference to the declining academic status of the academic discipline of geography in the early-mid twentieth century. But this is not likely to have been a significant factor. More pertinent and telling was a broader shift: namely the rise of the idea that issues of location and place reflect parochial or merely technical concerns. The supposedly prosaic, place-bound, concerns of geography thus came to be seen as less interesting and less profound than the temporal aspects of nostalgia.
Yesterday's self: nostalgia and the immigrant identity - Andreea Deciu Ritivoi - Google книги
The success and impact of this displacement may be measured by the effort required to put the geography back into nostalgia. I believe re-placing nostalgia in this way renders the object of longing more tangible and opens up new possibilities for how nostalgia might function. But her question opens out horizons that reach right across the world. Chapters one and two address the global dynamics of nostalgia while the remaining chapters work at more specific scales.
As we shall see, these scales work within and alongside each other: the smallest object can conjure a planetary sense of loss. Chapter one looks at the nostalgic content of both late capitalism and resistance to capitalism. Whilst the latter has the more obvious backward-looking character taking us back to a time of community, solidarity and before globalisation , I argue that both of these multifaceted social and economic forces are animated by themes of loss. Thus, while neo-liberals like to taunt their left-wing opponents for being frightened of change, the anxieties of loss not only shape many commodity forms but enable and encourage new frontiers in psycho-cultural commoditisation.
In chapter two a similarly broad assessment is given of the role of nostalgia in modern environmentalism. This chapter is structured around a critical encounter with constructionist perspectives on the environment. I seek to develop a theoretical argument for a vulnerable and engaged acknowledgment of environmental crises. Chapter three focuses on the role of nostalgia in Asia and, more specifically, in the writing of the Indian social philosopher, Ashis Nandy.
For Nandy is embarked on an important and, in the West, somewhat overlooked attempt to speak up for nostalgia as a cultural resource for the poor. The uses of nostalgia for populations who find themselves uprooted and unsure also emerges as a central theme in chapter four, which explores attitudes of loss and longing amongst migrants. It is an idea we also find in chapter six, where I address three sites of nostalgic discovery: the forest, the home and the local walk.
Each of these cases offers a unique window onto a powerfully felt geography of loss and yearning. I was not attacking the left because it is backward looking but exploring its difficulty with issues of loss and deracination; issues which, I argued, are fundamental to its politics. In this book I cast my nostalgic net wider in order to understand the power of loss in shaping the modern world. I will be returning throughout to the politics of nostalgia, sometimes building on Left in the Past for example by exploring the role of nostalgia in anti-globalisation and Green politics.
But, for the most part, I will be trying to open out the subject into new realms, both international and local. This is a wide-ranging, inter-disciplinary, book that aims to provide a theoretical and empirical framework for the study of the geography of nostalgia. Its specific conceptual arguments are introduced below. The first set of arguments are sociological, in that they are focused upon social process and change; the second set are geographical since they are focused on themes of scale, place and mobility.
For they all claim that nostalgia is a by- product, or off-spring, of modernity. To be the child of modernity, to be its creation or thing, establishes a temporal and conceptual hierarchy: modernity first, nostalgia second; modernity the creator, nostalgia the created. The idea that modern societies produce nostalgia, along with the related assertion that societies that are not modern have no use for, or concept of, nostalgia, is understandable.
The French Origins of “You Will Not Replace Us”
It seems plausible that societies that experience such uprooting and change that fundamental assumptions and ways of living are END OF PAGE 4 shaken — for example, societies that have experienced capitalism, colonialism and industrialisation — should also be societies where the past becomes a site of ideological investment. Thus, we would expect that such societies would see the ideal of a safer, better past become a fetish of purity for those uncomfortable with change and a totem of backwardness for those who wish to legitimise change. But what? But new words do not necessarily demonstrate new things.
Etymology offers a slender window onto history. Its power, in this instance, relies on the way it endorses the propensity for modern intellectuals to regard the modern period as a prodigious and universal progenitor; to imagine that most and, perhaps, all, of the social ideas and forms that we see shaping the world around us are modern creations. In The Past is Foreign Country, David Lowenthal explains that, Only in the late eighteenth did Europeans begin to conceive the past as a different realm Only in the nineteenth century did preservation evolve from an antiquarian, quirky, episodic pursuit into a set of national programmes; only in the twentieth has every country sought to secure its own heritage against despoliation and decay.
In this argument nostalgia appears as a reactive scrabbling for certainties in a revolutionary age. Marx cast such hankering for the past as a response to a specifically capitalist ethos, noting The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond the antithesis between itself and the romantic viewpoint, and the latter will accompany it as its legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end. It is not my intention to try and deny that profound connections exist between modernity and nostalgia.
The links and arguments I have just outlined are, in part, convincing.
The idea that nostalgia is a child of modernity contains genuine insight. In order to open the topic up we need to acknowledge the utility of this core insight, but also think beyond it. A big part of the disruptive power of nostalgia is that it calls us back to meaning. What I mean by this is that nostalgia evokes the possibility of meaningful events, relationships or things. These events, relationships or things may take the form of general practices for example, sustainability or solidarity , or more particular ideas for example craftsmanship or ethnic identity.
These nostalgic forms become new standpoints from which to observe the world. And they have the capacity to mess up neat demarcations between the modern and non-modern, the real and the fake. This argument also places us at a critical distance from the insistence that nostalgia should be understood as a tragic narrative. It is unarguable that a yearning for what is gone, a desire constantly reinforced and fed by change, represents a melancholy mood. As described by Timothy Oaks in his discussion about representations of place, nostalgia is best depicted in stories of frustrated return.
Rather than sustaining an image of the past as past, as so radically different as to be unobtainable, nostalgia expects and demands an empathetic transference to the place of loss: it contains an optimistic aspect which hopes to humanise, learn from and colonise the past. More than this: life without alienation feels tangible because some claim to have achieved it, and others maintain they have found it in brief moments.
The persistent and troubling nature of nostalgia is elaborated many times in this book, sometimes explicitly and in detail, and sometimes as a way of challenging the tendency to political instrumentalism, and condescension, that is still meted out to the topic. It is probably necessary to repeat at this point that none of this should be taken to imply that the past was, indeed, better than the present.
No wonder we have such trouble with it; and no wonder that it is so fascinating and multifaceted a phenomenon. In part because of the wide-spread stereotype that nostalgia is passive and reactive, this conventional definition 17 has allied discussion of the topic of power with ideas and processes that are forward- looking. In this book, by contrast, I return repeatedly to the active nature of nostalgia, exploring its mobile, critical and change- focused aspects. This position is not an argument that power can be understood as, somehow, located in emotion. It is rather, to argue, that nostalgia mobilises, enables and structures power.
Thus this book seeks to expand the idea of power towards an appreciation of the way seemingly melancholic ideas and practices are not just reactive responses to change but can also be forms of action and activism. In part this approach can already be seen at work in the critical literature, especially where the focus is upon how nostalgia is used to retain power for one group.
Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.
The complexity, the variety, the tumble of associations, that Proust offers us is characteristic of nostalgia. More than this, in its profuse associative imagery he hints at the effort and the passion that is required, and that language can hardly bare, to summon the past. The welter of images and words that seems, so often, to be demanded by nostalgic recall expresses its own pathos: it tells us that the past cannot be quite captured, ever; and that its evasiveness is at the heart of our pain and its allure. The taste and smell of a little cake brings forth a busy landscape of memories for Proust.
Another example of a small thing that evokes a much wider set of associations was recently reported on my local news station, where I live in the North East of England. The story was a report on the campaign by people in the village of Yarm to save the cobble stones in a particular patch of their high street. The local council has been digging up the cobbles and replacing them with a smooth tarmac surface. Surveying the angry - some tearful - placard waving objectors the news report took an amused tone.
It was not exactly mocking but beneath the surface of the news item lay a typically modern idea. Why shed tears over a few old cobbles? Yet there is a disingenuous quality to such bemusement. For there are few of us without similar attachments. And I suspect that most people instinctively understand how the scales of nostalgia are connected: that the Yarm cobbles link those protestors back to a past and a heritage that is important to their sense of self; that those stones symbolise identity and well-being.
Arnold connects their relentless, meaninglessness, roll on a dreary beach to a world-wide decline of meaning, and, more specifically, of religious faith: Listen! But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
Although the stones of Yarm and Dover are being employed to connote very different things, in both cases the particular is acting as a metaphor for a larger scale of loss. The scales of nostalgia connect along multiple and mobile lines. We might say that they inform and provoke each other.
The physical sliding of the withdrawing tide produces a sad evocation of abandonment, of something important yet intangible going. The tide recedes from us, from humanity and, as we watch, we are made to feel uneasy by an awareness of our own complicity and fascination. At a collective level the most discussed, perhaps the most obvious, forms of nostalgia concern the signs and symbols of the nation. Every French person, rich and poor, may claim to have an equal stake in such sites of memory and to be equally French. Yet the national scale also evokes the hierarchies through which nations are governed.
The past, like the future, is a terrain of unequal visions, claims and expectations. The fact that the landscapes of the landed gentry are preserved for us as valued landscapes, that it is the powerful who are commemorated and remembered, means that, for many people, patriotic nostalgia involves class transference. Personal and local forms of nostalgia are often less valued, seen as parochial and minor, when compared to larger scales. Yet there is another and contrary cultural flow, which may be termed the suspicion of the mass. It is often accompanied by a nostalgia for the unique and the small.
British economist E. I have only hinted at their profusion. Further on and up from regions and nations, and at the other end of the spectrum to intimate nostalgia, we can find nostalgia for the whole earth. This is a common trope of environmentalist narratives. The scales of nostalgia do not stop at the earth. Nostalgia is able to fling itself forward to encompass not just our planet but literally everything. Perhaps the grandest scale where this currently occurs arises from the thesis offered by many astrophysists that the universe will continue to expand until it becomes cold and lifeless.
One day there will be no more life anywhere: all that we humans have built, done and dreamed will come to nothing. It is too early, perhaps, to speculate on what impact this, relatively recent, idea will have upon us. But I suspect it may be of profound importance, in part because it releases a nostalgia for existence END OF PAGE 10 itself, not just human existence but existence as such; a pensive sense of loss for purpose or judgement, however distant, however final.
Hayao Miyazaki 28 The idea that modernity produced nostalgia, when allied to another common notion, that the West produced modernity, creates a corollary: that nostalgia is a uniquely Western phenomenon. In fact, the Western focus found in so many academic appraisals of nostalgia would lead us to think that it is not only produced but also consumed only in the West. Indeed, his words imply that such a perspective is a form of conceit.
In fact, over the last two decades nostalgia has emerged as a powerful economic and cultural force in a number of rising economies. The Eurocentrism of the academic discussion on nostalgia is beginning to look glaringly dated. I will be drawing on examples from China and India to illustrate a number of nostalgic currents. These examples are not merely forms of post-colonialism, or critiques of the West.
As the power of China and India has grown so too has an interest in, and an ability to study, indigenous traditions from the past within these two nations, traditions that explain, affirm or act to challenge the present. Putting the past to work in this fashion is not new in either India or China. But as the grip and aspirations of modernity have grown, so too have the social and economic roles of loss and yearning. The task of acknowledging the personal, local, regional and global processes and interactions of nostalgia is the challenge faced by anyone writing about the geography of nostalgia.
But it is made necessary both by the global and multiple dimensions of contemporary nostalgias and by the mobile and geographically extensive nature of the nostalgic imagination. This last phrase refers to the spatial stretching of nostalgia. Being prepared to up-sticks facilitates career progression and shows ambition.
And, there is more: I do know nearly all my neighbours and walking through town involves a succession of encounters and waves. It seems that failure has its compensations.
Aeon for Friends
And, to be honest, the hyper-mobile academic has always struck me as unenviable figure: lonely and disconnected. Rooting his own sense of loss in his experience of seeing his home, and the familiar landscape where he grew up, disappear under a reservoir, Sanders says of his fellow Americans, Perhaps it is inevitable that a nation of immigrants — who shoved aside the native tribes of this continent … [should] find it difficult to honor the life-long, bone-deep attachment to place.
Chapters four and five address the challenges of hypermobility whilst also challenging its presumption. For although continuous occupational and residential movement may be the reality for a few, if we define the hyper-mobile as people who, through their own volition, move their place of residence somewhere far distant at least once every ten years, 35 the great majority of people are better described as settled than as hypermobile.
Space sounds modern in a way place does not: it evokes mobility and the absence of restrictions; it promises empty landscapes filled with promise. When confronted with the filled-in busyness, the multiple stories that make place, the reaction of modern societies has been to straighten and rationalise, to prioritise connections and erase obstacles, to overcome place with space. The free-floating era that excites Massey is dominated by footloose neo-liberalism not socialism, of social fragmentation not solidarity. The uncomfortable impression is that radical left ideology and capitalist practice have formed an unspoken alliance, combining into a single practico-ideological form that extols and enforces deracination and social alienation under the banner of liberation.
Yet there are good reasons to think that the kind of care for place depicted by Tuan in his classic statement on the value of place, Topophilia,43 is not easy in an era that values mobility over settlement and, where post-modern intellectual and political currents, situate love of place as something of an embarrassment. But it seems that such terms fail to offer either much insight into, or sociologically account for, the dilemmas of mobility. A different language is needed, one that is able to show sympathy for a place-loving, place-making species travelling through difficult times.
I explain the development of this desire, from a situation in which nostalgia was reviled to the revisionist accounts of today. A narrative arc can be traced from repudiation to attempts to domesticate nostalgia. Both ends of this spectrum can be incorporated into our field of inquiry, for attempts at political repudiation, neutralisation and recuperation all reflect, albeit in different ways, the trangressive power of nostalgia.
Hence the disavowal of nostalgia creates contradictions and paradoxes. This tension is, in part, relieved by the development and management of a disjuncture between the private and the public expression of nostalgia. In public nostalgia is often derided but in private it is not only allowed as an individual vice but expressions of it — for example, personal attachments to locale and family - are valued as signs of humanity and character.
I am referring to the stereotype of women, especially older women, as the keepers of memory in families and communities. All these associations have, over the years, helped to secure its pariah status. Wells had provided a bolder expression of the same argument. We physiologists at least know that. But all priests and moralists have believed it was possible — they have wanted to take mankind back, force it back, to an earlier standard of virtue … even today there are parties whose goal is a dream of the crabwise retrogression of all things.
But no one is free to be a crab. One can retard this development and, through retardation, dam and gather up degeneration itself, and make it more vehement and sudden: more one cannot do. His is, however, a sadder repudiation of nostalgia than most, since for Nietzsche, progress is a form of decadence, a giving up of instincts and happiness. The last two decades has seen a turn towards engaging nostalgia in the humanities and social sciences.
This turn has been led by a number of influential accounts of how nostalgia can be detached from its conservative image. The ascent from simple, restorative nostalgia is an intellectual and political journey towards doubt and social critique. It takes us away from the pain and perversity of nostalgia and END OF PAGE 15 holds out the prospect of something more in keeping with our times, something less awkwardly backward-looking. Such attempts to separate out progressive and anti-essentialist nostalgia from reactionary, non-ironic nostalgia may be judged to be a necessary political strategy at a time when social democracy, socialism and, perhaps, liberal-left progressivism more generally, are on the defensive and backward-looking.
However, such attempts to sift nostalgia politically fail to acknowledge that its political tendencies are so cross-hatched as to make such distinctions implausible. For nostalgia is necessarily a narrative or act of dislocation, an articulation of homelessness. Thus nostalgia is, in some measure, inherently reflexive: it presupposes a self-conscious relationship with history.
It never was golden
As I have already noted, nostalgia has the power to question and challenge our categories and this is also true of our notions of left and right; progressive and reactionary. Indeed one of the most interesting things nostalgia does from a political point of view is to mess up these kinds of demarcations. The implausible nature of this exercise is caught in the worried, careful language that often characterises the pursuit of the nostalgic subject.
It has since become established as a recognised field of inquiry with its own journals and institutions. Nostalgia is not likely to go the same way. It cannot draw on such a depth or wide range of disciplinary contributions. But nor can it, or should it, be seen as a niche or sub-field within the general or broader topic of memory studies. Whilst the topic of memory invites us to consider the act and process of recall, nostalgia asks us to consider the politics of loss and, more broadly, attachments to, and uses of, the past and present.
Such a marginalisation of nostalgia makes it hard to appreciate its important role in modern economies and cultures. Marginalisation is also at work in the contrast sometimes drawn between individual memory as enabling unique forms of identity and meaning, and nostalgia as a crisis of meaning, a form of anguish caused by the loss of memory.
Within this framework, I believe that nostalgia can be considered a symptom of the disassociation between the contingent, digital memory of modern society and the individual memory, which has retained its holistic and prescriptive nature. From this perspective, nostalgia appears as a typically modern form of individual feeling … Nostalgia is thus an individual sense of anguish but of epidemic proportions and with collective roots. The separation of memory and nostalgia often relies on similar claims, such as the notion that unlike memory, nostalgia is irrational, inaccurate and incapable of drawing lessons from the past to apply to the present.
The creative and critical aspects of nostalgia, which are illustrated throughout this book, suggest that nostalgia includes but can also exceed the cognitive terrain in which memory is narrated. In summary, while nostalgia and memory overlap it is not useful to regard the former as a sub-set, or inferior form, of the latter. Nostalgia needs to be approached on its own terms. Whilst both of these currents negotiate, produce and reflect experiences of loss, I argue that nostalgia destabilises and connects them.
Yet in their very insistence on the importance of pre- commoditised forms of value, they call this system into question and, by so doing, link anti-capitalism to capitalism, anti- globalisation with globalisation, thus destabilising the meaning of both pairs of terms. In this chapter I am will not be mining deep into particular examples but rather providing an overview of this global nostalgic landscape.
It is a task made more challenging by the fact that, because nostalgia remains almost equally indigestible to both right and left, research on the topic is often mired in either political antipathy or apology. The claim to a forward-looking progressivism animates the global ambitions of organisations from the World Bank to the World Social Forum. It can sometimes seem that no one wants to acknowledge the obvious power that the past has over the world, or over the things they buy.
Although this chapter shows the connections between capitalism and diverse ideas and practices of resistance, in order to arrive at this point, and for the sake of clarity, it will be useful to approach them separately. The chapter starts with an account of the relationship between global capitalism and nostalgia, more specifically the selling of commodities through nostalgia.
You do not have to look far to see the results. Pinned to the wall above my desk is a photograph of my daughter dressed in a Victorian school piny, a souvenir of the time she visited a near-by heritage centre. Much of the furniture in the room — the chair, the table, the lamp and book shelves - is antique, at least in the sense that I bought it second- hand because I wanted something that looked old and was well made.
On the window sill are some knitted Zapatista dolls that I bought on holiday in Mexico. In the mug is some espresso made with real Italian roasted Arabica beans made in a real, old-fashioned Italian espresso pot. And there next to it are the remains of some wholemeal bread on a s retro plate. And my room is pretty typical.
I know a few people - and it is only a handful - who have tried to purge all this clutter from their lives. All the books are on Kindle, all the furniture is new, all the dust is swept away. They are after a clean, wipeable aesthetic, a late modern version of the Le Corbusian modernist dream of a world without decay: where a coat of whitewash would prevail. But today, in the s, this modernist look is itself a heritage item. It has, moreover, long remained a minority position, to the point of appearing eccentric.
The majority of people in the West and, increasingly, elsewhere too, not only continue to live among a clutter of things but take care of, and spend money on, objects that are historically resonant. Another thing to be noted from the small tour of my room I just gave is that the trade in nostalgia is both a local and global phenomenon. Some of my objects remind me of the close-by and personal but many are from far-away; indeed, their value seems to lie in the authenticity of that distance my espresso coffee, I like to think, is not fake but really from Italy.
We might also be reminded that the nostalgic commodity makes its presence felt across the range of product types food, manufactures, travel and leisure, energy and raw materials. Within all of these forms, to a greater of lesser extent, nostalgia can be seen at work. Even raw materials, one of the least promising of the forms just mentioned, yield a number of examples. Even when we turn to mined raw materials, we can locate nostalgic forces.
Thus although there is a large market of manufactures where nostalgia is easy to identify — from retro-looking goods to hand-crafted items — it also occurs wherever products rely on notions of traditional production and design.
Many of the most well developed and clearest examples come from food, travel and leisure. In the West and, increasingly, across the world, a sizeable share of the food market is composed of items where the value of the item is anchored in, and raised by, provenance and locality. From Cheddar Cheese to Champagne, such localised commodities do not just draw attention to their heritage but, to a greater or lesser extent, distinguish themselves in the market place by reference to it, especially when set against bland and culturally unrooted foodstuffs.
Today, even the cheapest bottles of fizzy drink, or tins of processed peas, contain such messages. However, by foregrounding the ability of the commodity to offer authentic experience, and return the purchaser to him or herself, each of these values is anchored in nostalgia. Nostalgia is not just one theme amongst many but a core concern of the modern commodity.
Although the most obvious illustrations come from advertising it is important to understand that the whole process of product design and development is framed by these considerations. For instance, the macho, individualistic character of products like 4x4s is not just a device of the advertisements, but written into the product from first inception. What the adverts do is bring this nostalgic arc to completion.
Let us look at a specific case: a product that is not obviously nostalgic but, when you look deeper, contains a powerful nostalgic narrative. The Jeep Wrangler Sahara, with its powerful engine, off- road capacities and boxy, retro shape, was developed and designed to appeal to a desire for individualistic, assertive control. The advert from shows the car heading uphill on snow, straight into an on-coming avalanche. One might think, at first glance, that this advert is just about freedom and adventure. But, more fundamentally, the commodity — the car — is being offered as enabling a return of individual power and control.
The disempowered modern subject feels he or she has lost something, a sense of mastery and independence. Hence they can be sold things that appear to offer these qualities. By overcoming Nature drivers are promised a return of self-worth. It seems that, contrary to initial appearances, the Jeep Wrangler Sahara is a nostalgic commodity. The term is applicable to a much wider range of products.
An important example of the valorisation of the natural, and the conscious attempt to create and experience authenticity, is the property market and the attempts many make to purchase, or buy into, a real home in a real place. The pursuit of a home, or second home, in the countryside is one of the most obvious expressions of this desire. In reality, this will not be a place of memories but rather a place for consumption and entertainment: if the mythical home has disappeared forever, the marketplace can therefore continually re-invent it, creating new occasions for consumption.
Yet the idea that identification with the elite represents the power and dominance of this class and the defeat of the working class fails to capture, or understand, the pleasures of imaginative transposition, especially when they open up the prospect of glamour and fantasy. He argues that nostalgia is not just about discrete items for sale but whole retail landscapes; the shops, streets and malls of modern consumption. By making it look like the shopper was entering a pre-modern past, they could make it feel like modern shopping wasn't happening.
There is no single or stable demarcation that can be drawn between these forms of transference. All nostalgia demands some kind of imaginative leap. Yet transference is intrinsic to nostalgia and, as such, an inevitable and universal dilemma.
Moreover, such dilemmas may be framed as creative moments of reflexivity, self-doubt and exploration. The nostalgic commodity offers a cultural problematic that is constantly being formed and reformed, a mobile sense of unease and opportunity that is one of the characteristics of the mobile markets of the late modern era. The central paradox of the nostalgic commodity is not unique to late capitalism but it is especially, glaringly, apparent within it. It is this: capitalism produces — and certainly trades in — nostalgia yet nostalgia offer a compensation for, or refuge from, capitalism.