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Friday, January 26, 2007


This is a debate that has been brewing in my classes for a long time. What is nostalgia? How can we describe the feeling of longing-yet-happy-bittersweet emotions? Manguel's book defines the term for us once and for all. It is fascinating how one comes across information like this by just opening a book. Here's the most concrete definition of nostalgia I have read up-to-date:

"The word 'nostalgia' was invented on June 22, 1688, by Johannes Hofer, an Alsatian medical student, by combining the word nostos (return) with the word algos (pain) in his medical thesis, "Dissertatio medica de nostalgia," to describe the sickness of Swiss soldiers kept far away from their mountains."

What do we feel nostalgia for? A loved one. A place or time. A country. That I believe is particularly the one that applies to me. Even though I was born here there are times when I feel I live in exile. The search for home is never ending. A passage fron Ovid's "Tristia," .... a country created by layers and layers of memory, embroidered, corrected, reshaped.... the places we live in become transformed through our prejudices, whims, limited experience, through the fact that we walk one route and not another." And as in yesterday's post, when I took refuge in literature, perhaps I can find a country in it as well. Manguel includes some of the finest quotes about literature I have ever read. From Josef Skvorecky: "To me literature is forever blowing a horn, singing about youth when youth is irretrievably gone, singing about your homeland when in the schizophrenia of the times you find yourself in a land that lies over the ocean, a land--no matter how hospitable and friendly--where your heart is not, because you landed on those shores too late." Literature can do that, and this book is making me more and more aware of the possibilities.

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At 2:51 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

I feel nostalgia for many things, JCR,and for any odd given time. Bittersweet emotions haunts the memory like a sudden crash, bringing on tears for the most unlikely remembered things.
And so I think that nostalgia stays a fascinating slice of mystery Teasing us a past but holding it up at arm's length. :-)


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