Sunday, August 23, 2015

RIP Svetlana Boym

Svetlana Boym was a Russian-American scholar of literature, memory, and the experience of being in immigrant. Her most famous book was The Future of Nostalgia, 2001. In it,
Dr. Boym grappled with two essential questions: Can a past that has slipped out of reach be reclaimed by means of nostalgia? Should it ever be?

She identified two types of nostalgia, one salubrious, the other far less so. The first, which she called reflective nostalgia, centers, she wrote, on “longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance.”

That condition — a constant companion of the émigré — acknowledges that the past can never truly be reconstructed. In consequence, she argued, it fosters empathy and a bittersweet consolation.

In the other type of nostalgia, Dr. Boym said, lies danger. This type, which she called restorative nostalgia, seeks to resuscitate the past as rigorously as possible.

“This kind of nostalgia,” Dr. Boym wrote, “characterizes national and nationalist revivals all over the world, which engage in the anti-modern mythmaking of history by means of a return to national symbols and myths.”

She added: “Restorative nostalgia manifests itself in total reconstructions of monuments of the past, while reflective nostalgia lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time.”
I like my past ruined, and safely past. People who obsess over history for reasons of contemporary politics creep me out.

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