From anchor to weapon

The politics of nostalgia

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  • Published 20240206
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-92-4
  • Extent: 203pp
  • Paerback, ePub, PDF, Kindle compatible

IMAGINE, FOR A moment, this scene. It happened to one of us recently as we were cleaning out a carport. Jarred (not his real name), one of our ­children, a seven-year-old boy, turned and said that seeing his old scooter – the one with gaudy plastic and three large wheels, instead of the stainless steel two-wheeled version he uses now – made him ‘nostalgic’. His word choice was striking (maybe somebody in the house had been talking about this word in preparation for an essay). On one level it was amusing: the idea that 2020 might be a golden age for which he felt homesick. Who would want to go back to that time, with all the uncertainty and pain of the pandemic? And how could someone so young be nostalgic for such a brief arc of history? 

But on reflection, Jarred used the term ‘nostalgia’ almost in its purest sense. His sad eyes and slumped posture conveyed his ache for a stage of earlier childhood that lay seemingly just beyond the horizon of memory. Some tough times at school lately may have added to his yearning for a safer past, and Jarred is given to frequent, wistful remembrances of holidays, of times with his grandparents, of ice-creams and sandcastles at the beach. But these kinds of feelings are common to humans of all ages. That late afternoon, as the sun left traces across the sky on its retreat west and the mosquitoes began to buzz and bite, Jarred’s pain of longing (algia) was stirred by the memory of a warm, golden-tinged past. His desire in that moment, which he intuitively knew to be unrealisable, was for a return home (nostos).

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About the author

Michael L Ondaatje

Michael L Ondaatje is Head of the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, and Professor of History, at Griffith University. He is an...

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