Monday, November 06, 2006

nostalgia for the future (slight return) #3

Aaron Philip Tate writes:
"The word "nostos" in ancient Greek does not mean, and has never at any time meant, "homeland." The standard definition is "return." It is a ubiquitous concept in early Greek literature, and occurs throughout the Odyssey to describe Odysseus' "return" to his wife, child, and home in Ithaka... the stories of the other heroes returning from Troy to their homes are called the "Nostoi," or "Returns,"and there may have been a whole cycle of oral epics depicting different heroes' returns from Troy. As it stands today, we have only two full stories of "return," one preserved in Homer's Odyssey (the return of Odysseus), the other in Aeschylus' Oresteia (the return of Agamemnon). "

Fascinating--and good to know (I got the nostos = homeland from something on the web, apparently itself sourced in the OED, which is quite alarming). Still I think the essential point remains: which is that nostalgia, when the term was invented a couple of centuries ago, originally referred to a longing to return through space, as opposed to across time; it was the yearning to get back to where you belonged... homesickness with a hint of
dislocation and culture-shock (similar perhaps to the “people are strange” feeling captured in the Doors song; indeed Morrison once described their music as being about "not feeling at home”). At any rate, this original nostalgia was a plausible emotion in the sense that there was a cure for what ailed you: catching the first warship or merchant vessel back home and returning to the warm hearth of kith and kin, to a world that was familiar... Whereas nostalgia as we now use the term is an impossible yearning, since the only true remedy would involve time travel.
But again, this kind of personal nostalgia is totally different from the nostalgia-for-something-you-never-actually-lived-through of retro culture, the "nostalgia mode" as Jameson defined it.

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