Nostalgia and Its Manifold (Be)longings
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In his seminal essay on the historical semantics of nostalgia “The Idea of Nostalgia,” Jean Starobinsky (1966) foregrounds the complexity of the concept of nostalgia and contends that nostalgia is an unstable and shifty term. He implies that nostalgia – quite paradoxically – has both a fixing and spreading power. Starobinsky indicates that on the one hand, the concept of nostalgia immobilises that which it tries to represent, but on the other hand, that it inaugurates its own relentless motions to various, sometimes unlikely, discursive places. During such travels, nostalgia becomes attached to ideas or problems which initially had little bearing on its shape and resonance, but which later come to modify the character of the concept itself. Though Starobinsky focuses on nostalgia's mobility in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has particular shifts or new attachments in mind, his fix-andspread model of nostalgia seems well-fitted for a description of post-Romantic and postmodern fate of nostalgia. Nostalgia has been on the move, jumping disciplinary ships and traversing fields of study, which shows in the everexpanding scope of contemporary nostalgia criticism. Thus, today “the study of nostalgia does not belong to any specific discipline: it frustrates psychologists, sociologists, literary theorists and philosophers, even computer scientists who thought they had gotten away from it – until they took refuge in their home pages and cyber-pastoral vocabulary of the global village.” (Boym 2001: xvii) This paper focuses on contemporary nostalgia criticism and argues that the unstable and multifaceted character of the concept of nostalgia can be usefully theorised with the help of what Mieke Bal (2002) defined as “travelling concepts”. Pervasive yet defying definition and classification, nostalgia travels between disciplines, individual scholars, historical periods, geographically dispersed academic communities. As a “travelling concept”, nostalgia does not properly belong to one discipline or period, nor is it controlled by one discourse; rather, it frustrates attempts at attaching it to one type of study and – so to say - keeps delaying its disciplinary homecoming. This paper will offer a sketch of historical and interdisciplinary travels of nostalgia, outlining the ways nostalgia is (1) displaced from its initial dwelling (medical science) to Romantic aesthetics or, more generally, to discourses of modernity, (2) employed in such diversified fields as travel/tourism studies, ethics, historiography. Drawing on Mieke Bal's thesis, the paper will argue that the incessant travels of the concept of nostalgia and its cross-disciplinary appeal are energised by the concept's heterogeneous character. The flexibility of the concept of nostalgia as well as its displacement in relation to itself is an asset rather than impediment, thanks to which one can rethink and modify the taken for granted cultural narratives.
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