Sunday 15 October 2023


Nostalgia was originally used to describe a kind of pathological (painful - even potentially fatal) homesickness; but is now much more widely used to mean a yearning for something in the past (time of life, place, person, group) - which yearning may be deep, rich and pleasurable. 

Although it is generally regarded as a rather weak and sentimental affliction; I regard nostalgia as, in itself, a Good Thing, especially in potential - because to experience nostalgia is a sign of depth of nature, perhaps evidence of the capability for love; a looking beyond the currently dominating incentives of here-and-now.

But nostalgia is just a beginning; and what matter is what happens next. Like most things, nostalgia can lead to bad outcomes. 

For example, it can lead to the attempt to return to childhood, or a futile attempts to rebuild that which has irrevocably gone (and which probably ought not to be rebuilt anyway). This error might be termed "nostalgia as an end in itself". 

It may also represent (or lead to) a spiritually dangerous things, which is trying to recover and re-live an earlier stage of oneself; trying to undo and forget (rather than learn from and repent) aspects of one's life. 

Or, the opposite; the impossibility of returning to the earlier situation may lead to a kind of despair. The past is seen as entropically-doomed because the world inevitably decays, our memory always degrades, the past is annihilated, death by destruction is the end of all...

This error might be termed nostalgia as a deceptive (because unattainable) vision of the impossible Good. 

Either way; nostalgia can lead to a kind of life-sapping attitude - especially in a secular-materialist society such as ours (one which favours and rewards psychopathic callousness); which perhaps accounts for nostalgia's low-status reputation. 

If, on the other hand, someone has an assumption of his own life as a stage and phase in the experience of an eternal soul; and has the expectation of resurrected life in Heaven to follow death; then nostalgia can assume a very positive role in life, and beyond. 

Nostalgia (potentially) points us in a direction that recognizes the positive value of our own past experiences; and these experiences may include imaginative and empathic experiences; for example the best experiences from reading, arts, television; and the experiences of people with whom we identify (both those people we have known or met, and those about-whom we have learned). 

We may realistically expect such nostalgia experienced in this mortal life, to form (in ways not explicitly comprehensible at present) a vital part of our eternal life in Heaven. 


Jon P. R. said...

so is nostalgia, the proper and Good form, similar to the intended use of a rear-view mirror of sorts?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JPR - I'm afraid this is another of your comments where I don't understand what you are saying. You need to be more explicit, or careful in phrasing.

Jon P. R. said...

since nostalgia is of the past, i am visualizing it as a rear-view mirror in a car.

when you write:

"nostalgia can lead to a kind of life-sapping attitude - especially in a secular-materialist society such as ours"

it seems to me, secular materialists focus on the sign over the signified, mistake the map for the territory -- carried out to the extreme, they make an idol of material to worship.

nostalgia, as i read you describe it here, seems to manifest as an idol in its worst incarnations:

"This error might be termed 'nostalgia as an end in itself'"

i imagine someone driving their car with their eyes glued to their rear-view mirror, to the exclusion of everything else.

but i can also imagine utilizing my rear-view mirror properly, taking in the relevant input from it as it flickers -- still keeping my eyes forward on the road ahead, illuminated by His light, still able to steer toward the Good and avoid obstacles which could total my car if my eyes were instead only focused on what is behind me.

pyrrhus said...

Yes, I have lots of nostalgia for certain aspects and people in the past, but I understand that it's a guide, not only for this life, but for future lives, for the world I want to create around me, the kind of souls to have with me, and the way I should be treating them....

Lauri Stark said...

Nostalgia is typically held for lived experiences but for me the strongest nostalgia has been for times and places that newer were. This is something Tolkien tapped in his legendarium:

Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed.

New unattainable vistas...since this is nostalgia for nothing in particular, it has this impressionistic and mythical quality to it. My understanding is that it is our longing for the paradise long lost, like a faint echo we hear from a far. While that echo reminds of the things past it finally is reflected back from ahead and becomes a promise of things to come. Thus, nostalgia in this way is not simple dwelling on the past but is future-oriented.