January 21, 2012

Nostalgia - A Magical Quicksand?

Is nostalgia becoming a modern day epidemic? Nostalgia for... a place that once was, a country one left behind,  a people we once were, a lifestyle that once was, the person you once were, the friends you once had; the list is endless! If indeed nostalgia has taken such mammoth proportions, one wonders why that is so, and what it will lead to.
Mohsin Hamid a  renowned writer of "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" fame claims, "we live in a world that is changing more and more rapidly, and the desire to look back with longing is growing more and more strong. But we can't return to the past and it is dangerous to try."  Nostalgia, as suggested by Hamid, may be a result of the rapidly changing world that we now inhabit.  A world that is shrinking every minute because distances have ceased to matter. The instant and super-fast connectivity of the internet and the i-phone have certainly resulted in virtual proximity, but then why the nostalgia? Hamid's answer is because " I liked my new existence, but I'd liked my old one too, and I imagined places where the two could come together."  Which points to the very ephemeral nature of our modern day existence; we barely get our hands on our present, and it is gone or has evolved into something smarter or more complex. Given the transient nature of our present, we are compelled to go back to it in order to fathom it and enjoy it.  That going back is nostalgic,  and it is invariably colored by that which we are seeking at that moment in our lives. Nostalgia thus becomes that utopia which we frequently inhabit to feel in control of our fast paced and fast changing lives; nostalgia allows us to 'spin our straw into gold' as Sandra Cisneros would have said.

Much as I love immigrant literature, I have to admit that it is usually born out of nostalgia, whether it's Lahiri, Jelloun, Allende, or Cisneros.  They all write about the indomitable human spirit that will not give up even when rooted out of its natural environment and coerced  to adapt and assimilate in foreign soil.  However, there exists a monotony of theme and thought in these writings because, "Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones. No one was safe from its onslaught."  (Gabriel Garcia Marquez.). The Mohammad's and the Willie Loman's of  Literature are tragic heroes no doubt but are losers in real life because they too indulge in nostalgia which spells their doom. Nostalgia implies a disconnect with the present because we are embedded in a magical past, and it will never let go, thus killing any likelihood of a future that might have been. A dangerous predicament for sure, especially in a world that's 'full of care, and we have no time to stand and stare'  into the magical quicksand of nostalgia.

1 comment:

berenice said...

lovely reading dear I Me My, and lately, maybe because hope was in my future, I haven't been nostalgic, but I understand very well your point, and agree that most of my beloved writers, Jhumpa Lahiri!! is one of them too, base their tales in nostalgia, and if we read them is for a reason, the only thing i feel a bit nostalgic about now, is of written lovely articles as you do, but i will find an inspiration on that, instead of a sigh for lost times, thank you for your writing and have a lovely week ahead