07.31.2017 | Nostalgia

The enduring landscape of nostalgia was on full display in our last presidential campaign with its slogan: Make America Great Again. Americans seem wistful now for some long-ago idea of themselves -- you know, when wars were just, manners were exquisite, marriages endured, honor mattered, and people answered their own damn land-line. An element of elegy often haunts discussions of excellence, quality, and righteousness.

The campaign tapped into a sentiment as old as the ages i.e. the longing for a lost past, the past even of another country or another era. Per the subject article (click: Look Back With Danger), Nietzsche’s eighteenth century teutonic lament was “to go home” to ancient Greece. Homer’s heroic world was that of gods, not of men. One watches “Chariots of Fire” with a nostalgic pang, taken in by the pursuit of excellence and the unambiguous moral lines of 1924 England. The viewer then nods and says, “Just look around, will ya’, nothing but dreck.”

But beware of the nostalgia factor. First, the past is usually selectively attractive — left out are the hardships, violence, and despair of the time — and  is thus “sanitized for your protection.” Second, nostalgic images vastly oversimplify history and its linkage to the present, leaving one with “the shallow mindfulness of children.”

This is especially true of America of today — chaotically hyped with kinetic information and alarming images — more in need of a steady gaze than some cartoon depiction.

Steve SmithComment