Monday, 5 September 2011
I have been meaning to blog about nostalgia ever since i returned from a wonderful summer holiday, but nostalgia itself kept me from doing so, making the distance between me and the topic minimal and threatening. As a student and speaker of Greek i cannot help associating nostalgia with pain (άλγος), even if it's only due to linguistic reasons. On an emotive level, i find it very close to loss and deprivation.
During several attempts to discuss these issues with my students, they became uncomfortable and nervous, giving me the impression that i was touching a chord that was very close to their intimate emotional space. They, too, were experiencing some kind of nostalgia that they did not or could not express. These experiences and considerations led me to a little reading project (indeed infinitesimal, given the bibliography on the topic in several disciplines) on memory and nostalgia. Meandering through the platonic notion of the ever-reborn soul and the psychoanalytical ideas about memory and forgetting, i came across a different perspective of nostalgia in the Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology (2004, Greenberg, Koole, Pyszczynski eds.) by Sedikides, Wildschut and Baden in the chapter titled Nostalgia: Conceptual Issues and Existential Functions, a perspective that gave me new insight into the world i inhabit, that of middle-aged adults, adolescents and literary characters.
According to Sedikides et al. nostalgia is "a positive emotional and experiential reservoir that people delve into to deal with existential threat." First, by putting together pieces of our past life, we solidify the unification of self. Through resorting to an idealized past, we strengthen our ability to deal with the present and restore our self-worth. Second, the meaningful cultural context that we create with nostalgia makes our life more purposeful and creates better understanding of how we fit into this particular context. Third, nostalgia reestablishes a connection with significant others by bringing them from the past into our present. Significantly enough, nostalgia is seen overall as a universal experience and a stock of positive feelings.
I am hoping to bring all these aspects of nostalgia into my classroom and into real and imaginary discussions with people from the past and characters from books i love. Of course my next entry will be about the present.