Friday, October 23, 2015

Gary Cross on Nostalgia

Some of you may recall our recent Author's Corner interview with Gary Cross, author of Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism.

Over at History News Network, Cross reflects on how consumerism and nostalgia for the commodities of the past might be able to help us to engage more effectively with the past.

Here is a taste:

It’s easy to mock the guy at old car shows whose pride is in his ’57 Chevy that took years to restore and is just like the one he had at seventeen or the middle-aged woman who proudly displays her Barbie doll collection from when she was 7. But these objects of memory certainly meet a need by helping people recover the past; and collecting can bring together those who have little else in common but a shared memory.

The problem with modern nostalgia isn’t that it longs for the past rather than the present or future; the trouble is that it fixates on stuff and thus short-circuits what memory can do for us. Some of this is probably inevitable. Few of us are mystics and, as in religion, most of us require “relics” to share and help us reach back to the past. But, in the end can commercialized nostalgia meet our needs? My obsession with the commodities of my childhood cannot be shared with my younger brother, much less with my children; they are just different. This longing separates me from communities and pasts beyond my personal experience.

But can’t the modern nostalgic impulse transcend all this? It can if we use things of memory to engage with the past, not merely regress into a romantic memory of childhood “innocence.” If we converse with that past, and bring a full and honest consciousness of our present lives into our encounter with the past, nostalgia can reveal something about ourselves as we are now and also show us how the world has actually changed. Such a conversation with the past might help us get over our obsessions with our childhoods. In fact, nostalgia need not be childish; it can bring us the pleasure of growing in our understanding of ourselves and of the larger world from the vantage point of grown-ups.