For me it is a thing that quickly swells up to an emotional precipice and then just as quickly subsides into a trough. It is ephemeral; the strong emotions dissipate and while I remember it once was, the feeling is lost and unattainable. “The very irretrievability of the past is salient in the experience.”[i]
A trigger, maybe a specific event or person, recalls a memory, but not of that thing, but rather of an emotion that characterizes a period in time. And with this sense comes all those things I associate with that time past[ii], forming a cascade of emotions. They swell up from my gut with a blinding intensity; it is as if all my neurons are firing at once blocking out any other thought and all senses.
Why is my response to strong[iii]. Why do I feel so much about that past and not others? What was so special about it? Do I consider those times past better than other pasts or the present? I don’t have a rational explanation. I’m not sure it is worth the effort to find one either unless it somehow impacts the present me. Or do I have it all wrong and in fact “the nostalgic past is not recollected but constructed in accordance with present needs”[iv] and thus it is my present state of mind that has me forming sentimental memories of the past. Is it my transition into the latter stages of my life that has me resurrecting the past? A known place, a known outcome.
So many things have changed between now and then. A more diverse society and culture has exposed for me the prejudices that went unnoticed then but are intolerable now. The responsibilities one takes on over the course of raising a family introduces the realities of decisions, nuance, compromise, and practicality. The black and white simple explanation is gone. It never really was. Sometimes it was better, many times it was not. Yet, the memory of that sense of simplicity is a compelling part of the emotion; maybe nostalgia is the tension between desire and knowing.
The memories drawn in
[i] Howard, Scott Alexander. 2012. nostalgia. Analysis 72 (4): 641-50.
[ii] Howard, Scott Alexander. 2012. nostalgia. Analysis 72 (4): 641-50.
“It is the feeling of a vast context restored by a particular sensation that affords Marcel such profound happiness, even when it is bittersweet: ‘the true paradises are the paradises we have lost’ (1970: 228). p.644”
[iii] Howard, Scott Alexander. 2012. nostalgia. Analysis 72 (4): 641-50.
What is targeted in episodes of nostalgia are memory representations of an unrecoverable past, seen, at least in the moment, as meriting desire. Beyond that, the emotion is more distinctive for its bittersweet affective character than for the sort of past it is directed towards, or the relationship that obtains between that time and now. p.647
[iv] Howard, Scott Alexander. 2012. nostalgia. Analysis 72 (4): 641-50.