when’s the time right for some nostalgia?

January 1, 2024

On many layers, it’s ironic that the song we all grow nostalgic for during the English-world’s New Year is a song that opens by questioning whether we should be nostalgic: “should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” 

I rarely experience moments of nostalgia unaccompanied by the meta-awareness that this affection for some-thing is somehow “less than real,” or “less than present.” Part of the emotion itself seems to me to be the awareness that my longing is not objective and its “objects” can never be “brought to mind.” It’s as though the emotion itself emerges from an imprecise chemical bloom when your brain tries to access a record of memories lost under too many layers of dust. The book opens and pages appear as they do only in dreams, the sentences disappearing at the our peripheries; the render distance on your brain’s image-modeling program works but it’s set near-zero. 

The danger of nostalgia for manipulating humans—in politics or advertising—lies in this open and obscure haunting. The shadowy figure of nostalgia’s affection never needs to be fully fleshed out. Nostalgia, like desire, knows how to recreate itself indefinitely at its own blurry and continually smudging boundaries. 

But there’s something lovely about it in it’s best moments, as when felt in the safe, metaphysical company of friends or acquaintances. Among the spirits of friendship nostalgia’s specters are welcome guests. They heighten our awareness of the open and expanding timelessness we find ourselves together in. Our deepest desires linger in shadowy and indefinite forms. It’s good to remember this as the ghosts come and go from the corners of childhood playrooms and ride wisps of distant cultural clouds. Like Oscar Wilde said about cigarettes, nostalgia too has at least the charm of leaving one dissatisfied.

So take a cup of kindness yet, and welcome nostalgia to a very meta-New Year party asking, “should you be here?” and see what happens. Besides, for those of us trying to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, what really could be more nostalgic, than asking ourselves (again) whether now’s the right time for some nostalgia?