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Reconsidering Nostalgia

The word ‘nostalgia’ comes from the Greek nóstos, meaning homecoming, and álgos, meaning pain. Strangely enough for an emotion so commonplace, the word for this feeling was not coined until the 17th Century. Today, academic references to nostalgia usually concern its therapeutic aspects as a method of combatting clinical depression and anxiety. Any analysis of nostalgia as a phenomenon itself is usually dismissive, putting down preferences for past events to purely cognitive factors.

A research paper by Carey K. Morewedge entitled “It Was A Most Unusual Time: How Memory Bias Engenders Nostalgic Preferences” explains its own thesis that nostalgia is more perceptions than reality based on the fact that people tend to remember positive experiences more easily than negative ones, and that there is a differentiation in the objects of nostalgic reference among different people. Under materialism, this understanding of nostalgia makes perfect sense. How could anyone who spent their childhood in the Great Depression, for example, have nostalgia for that period when the times following it brought so much comparative economic advantages? Clearly, the childish mind blocks out the hunger, the worry, the hardship, and instead remembers fleeting moments of glee.

I submit that it is entirely possible, nay probable, that people tend to have idealized visions of their childhood especially, but this doesn’t by default mean the perceptions of the past as compared to the more recent past are invalid. Why does nostalgia for a decade gone by not feel as intense as that for three decades prior? Further, why does a nostalgic attitude exist for some era when it was not even experienced, as exemplified by the relatively young clientele of the AltRight finding some solace in the aesthetics and musical style of the early 1980s, which most of them just missed? Is our perception of a better past faulty once imagined superior metrics are brought to light, or is there a hidden metric that studies are not picking up on?

If time is ordered in the Traditionalist model as a circle around which linear time is folded to form cyclical time, perhaps nostalgia can be understood at a level deeper than psychological trickery. The trajectory of spiritual health is seen on a declining glide path, the vehicle for this decline being the atomization of a society which breaks apart its cluster around a central fount of Traditional health. All of society’s elements move outward from the center and indeed from one another, becoming more isolated and cold over time, like a planet moving away from the sun. As the distance from the center grows, man becomes more fearful of death and works diligently with his infernal sciences to prevent and postpone it. This is entirely a product of a concentric distancing from the center which Guénon describes as “the seat of immortality.” Naturally, the further one gets from Tradition; the more noticeable its absence becomes, and yet Tradition itself remains an esoteric concept, and thus most would not rationalize their feelings of loss through the passage of time in this way. They would instead attribute their more content emotional states to certain objects of enjoyment. These objects need not be of a Traditional kind. One could just as easily attach value to a discontinued soap opera as to a sacrament in this confused era. Schuon declared that nostalgia for the past was unimportant and temporally constrained, and in fact what was meaningful was a nostalgia for Tradition.

“If to recognize what is true and just is “nostalgia for the past,” it is clearly a crime or disgrace not to feel this nostalgia.”

But Schuon had the mind of a sage. Were one to be uninitiated, what would be their experience of this desire for homecoming if not an immature effort to return to the womb? This can reflect a subconscious longing for a return to the womb of the world itself, the Edenic and pristine state of creation which as Eliade teaches us, underlies all the rituals of the pre-Christian religions. And if nostalgia be our lot on the path of descent further into the Kali Yuga, then which word would best describe the emotion we may feel on the other side of the nadir, on the “re-ascent”? Perhaps at this time “nostalgia” will lose its meaning and usage (as was curiously the case before the era sandwiched between the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment) for we will begin to long for the future instead of the past, and our movements will be defined by a captaincy and vision only appropriate for those who construct rather than destroy.

The question that comes to mind for me is: when will we no longer need the temporal past? When will the light of a new dawn intensify rather than diminish? The answer lies within those who, in their active life, recognized a concept of nation, community, and indeed self that was not only confined to the present but could carry at the same time the weight of the past and future, an eternity at rest on a single moment. Codreanu said:

“We will kill in ourselves a world in order to build another, a higher one reaching to the heavens.”

And perhaps the world that is killed is not only the internal state of depravity one enters in Kali Yuga but also the linear world of horizontal time in which past events are lost and must necessarily be romanticized to various degrees of intellectual credibility. As I have mentioned before in speaking of Eliade’s concept of the ‘terror of history‘, overcoming the realities of our own shortcomings, and those of human history (which is at all levels an informant of nostalgia) is achieved through the Incarnation of the Living God Himself. If you understand this, and draw close to God, then the terror in the face of what has been and the longing for whatever came before it will ultimately melt away, for at once you are reconciled to Tradition, which is the eternal, and at the same time forgiven for the transgressive, which is temporal.

In our dear Liberal world, nostalgia is something of a taboo because feeling positive about the past is to feel positively about a cavalcade of neoteric heresies that were systematically banished, a great example being this caller to the Michael Savage radio show who wanted rock and roll locked away due to the racism of the 50s. However, my admittedly casual take on this mysterious emotion is that it is, in fact, an immature expression of a subconscious instinct which we have trouble giving rationality to, but points the way like a compass nonetheless. Duties last not because traditions were, but because they still are, and it is we who change, not the times, nostalgia only serving to remind us that we are falling short of our potential. If we stop seeing virtue as being locked behind the waves of time, we will realize that virtue in the future, but of course, the first step is acknowledging virtue exists outside of our capacity to invent it.

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