Diffractions is an online, peer reviewed and open access graduate journal for the study of culture. The journal is published bi-annually under the editorial direction of graduate students in the doctoral program in Culture Studies of the Lisbon Consortium, at Universidade Católica Portuguesa. ISSN: 2183-2188
Issue 8: Nostalgia
When the concept was invented by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer in 1688, nostalgia (from ancient Greek νόστος, “home”, and ἄλγος, “pain”, originally Heimweh) described a medical condition that referred to the debilitating homesickness experienced by Swiss soldiers.
Eventually recognized as a pervasive and persistent phenomenon, nostalgia shifted in usage from describing a disease to referring to an emotional state of mind, one which seems to be intrinsically linked to modernity itself (Boym 2001). Indeed, it permeates both individual and collective notions of identity and representations in modern globalised culture in several fields: capitalistic culture in general (Cross 2015; Jacobsen 2020, 2021), literature (Rudaityte 2018), film and television (Leggatt 2021), nationalism (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Smith 1999) and religion (Lewis and Hammer 2007), among others.
As an emotion, nostalgia is bittersweet. It alludes to something that is pleasant but also absent, and which causes suffering. It can be an individual or collective longing for absent places and past times and sometimes it can carry the hope of returning to them in the future. In her provocative seminal work, The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym (2001, 37) proposed the two distinct modes of restorative and reflective nostalgia. While the former “attempts a transhistorical reconstruction of the lost home”, the latter is content with merely experiencing the emotion of longing for an irretrievable past. The past that is the object of these nostalgic modes does not need to be rooted in historical fact but is often an imaginary one.
In the contemporary world, information and transportation technologies are able to rapidly change both our individual and collective senses of time and space. The here suddenly becomes there. The present suddenly becomes the past. Yet, it paradoxically turns into a “present past” (Huyssen 2003) by remaining ubiquitous through its storage in easily accessible individual and collective digital archives. The popular culture of the past decade surely reflects a sense of nostalgia in several different fields. Recent cinematic trends might be exemplary of this development, evidenced by the revival of superheroes created in the first half of the 20th century, such as Batman and Superman, the reboot of the Star Wars franchise, the reinvention of the 1960’s Sci-Fi classic Star-Trek, etc.
Our most recent political and geopolitical realities have been undeniably and very impactfully shaped by restorative nostalgia as a political tool. According to Campanella and Dassù (2019), several instances attest to the growing significance of nostalgia in the contemporary world. These include ex-President Donald Trump’s slogan of making “America Great Again”, Xi Jinping’s calls for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese people” and Brexit, which was driven by the idealisation of a bygone era of full sovereignty. Putin comparing himself to Czar Peter the Great in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a more recent example.
Following Mark Fisher’s analysis of the first decades of the 21st century one might see these nostalgic turns to the past as an expression of postmodern ennui; the expression of the impossibility to imagine truly new futures that leads us to an endless recycling of the past. The present being thus incessantly haunted by the past leaves us with a “nostalgia for the future” – a nostalgia for a time long gone, filled with utopian promises of a different future (Fisher 2022).
However, the last few years appear to represent a break with this endless haunted ennui. The climate change emergency that has very violently seeped into public consciousness has led young people all over the world to claim their right to a future. Furthermore, the Covid-19 Pandemic exposed systemic inequalities and flaws which reach deep into our shared past, making some restorative nostalgias and their populist proponents lose their stronghold. And yet, since nostalgia has been shown to be an effective psychological coping mechanism in situations of anxious uncertainty (Davis 1979), one cannot expect that it will disappear in our crisis-ridden present, where war, climate change, and an ever-increasing number of displaced persons provoke change and a sense of uprootedness. Moreover, even though we might feel the need for new imaginings of the future with increasing urgency, it is not clear that we are succeeding in imagining them, potentially leaving us with the same “nostalgia for the future”.
This leads us to ask several questions: How does this very specific contemporary moment affect and produce different forms of nostalgia? How do reimaginings of the future and nostalgic longing intersect? In what specific ways does nostalgia oscillate between escapism, regressive fantasy and effective coping mechanism? Is there still space for nostalgic longing in this ever-urgent present? How do the rapid pace of digitisation and the easy access to digital archives change the modes of nostalgia? How has the concept of nostalgia and the way it is perceived evolved in time and space? Are there any major differences between nostalgia as it is understood in the present and how it was understood in the past? What functions does nostalgia have in the present? What functions did it have in the past?
We look forward to receiving contributions addressing these or related questions. Topics include but are not limited to:
l Nostalgia as a modern cultural, social, political and commercial experience
l Places of Memory: real and virtual places of identity
l Contemporary golden ages: the past and the future as utopia and dystopia
l The Great (Wo)men of History: The rise and fall of the Nostalgic Hero/Anti-hero
l Non-random Access Memory: Nostalgia in the age of digitisation
l Deeply moved: Nostalgia and Migration
Submissions and review process
Abstracts will be received and reviewed by the Diffractions editorial board who will decide on the pertinence of proposals for the upcoming issue. After submission, we will get in touch with the authors of accepted abstracts in order to invite them to submit a full article. However, this does not imply that these papers will be automatically published. Rather, they will go through a peer-review process that will determine whether papers are publishable with minor or major changes, or they do not fulfill the criteria for publication.
Please send abstracts of 150 to 200 words, and 5-8 keywords by MAY 6th, 2023, to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Diffractions 8”, followed by your last name.
The full papers should be submitted by JULY 31st, 2023, through the journal’s platform: https://revistas.ucp.pt/index.php/diffractions/about/submissions.
Every issue of Diffractions has a thematic focus but also contains special sections for non-thematic articles. If you are interested in submitting an article that is not related to the topic of this particular issue, please consult the general guidelines available at the Diffractions website at https://revistas.ucp.pt/index.php/diffractions/about/submissions. The submission and review process for non-thematic articles is the same as for the general thematic issue. All research areas of the humanities are welcome.