Week 9: The Feeling of the Past

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CLASS NOTES

We opened seminar today with a little housekeeping. Our working plan for the penultimate week of the semester will be a double session on Wednesday, December 7 — and I think the second half of that double session will be in the early evening, and will include our attending together the screening of Peter Galison’s film, Containment. I’ll firm that up in the next week. (Another possibility would be do try to do a NYC final session, so we could take in this together in the evening – right up our alley, and I am friendly with the person from Triple Canopy who is chairing the event, who invited us to meet up in advance of the gathering to talk about artistic research). Please remember that we do not have class next week (Thanksgiving vacation starts on Tuesday).

We also put some time in talking about final projects. As I said, we have a (wonderful, anonymous) “curator” lined up who has prepared for us a discrete collation of sources — a small body of materials suitable for the labor of a thoughtful historian. As we discussed back in week five, these sources are now officially available to any of us who want to take up the challenge/opportunity of thinking/writing some form of historical “exercise” from this adventitious archive. As I explained, the deal is this: our curator-archivist wishes in this case to remain anonymous until such time as we have completed our work. I think at that point there will be an occasion for a meeting of the minds on the project in some format. The catch on this is that you have to choose to do it sight-unseen — which is to say, if you want to do this exercise, let me know and I’ll send you the stuff; but receiving the stuff means you’re going to do a final project with this material. For the record, I am committed to doing one of these myself.

This is probably obvious, but the deadline for all of the final projects/papers is dean’s date.

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We spent most of the first half of the seminar discussing The Affect Reader. This was a little challenging because (thank you for your honesty) relatively few of you had actually spent much time with the text. (I know it’s late in the term here, team, and everyone is a bit winded, but let’s work to stay on pace across the finish line together.)

Sympathetically speaking, I think we all sensed a kinship between the problem space of the theorists of the affective turn and the mood/tenor of our own inquiry in this class. What is, perhaps, most appealing about the scholarly labors of those who identify with affect research is the pervasive sense projected in their writings that “we” are (mostly) missing something when we do our scholarly work on humans and human situations. Our attention to language, our attention to power, our attention to structures, our attention to ideas and institutions — all of this is well and good. But are we not failing in all of this to place our hands under and around something absolutely central to lived human reality?

Call it what you will. Call it “emotion” (for sometimes the affect theorists admit of this terminology). Call it “affect” (this seems to have become the rallying terminology). Phillip Fisher called it “the passions” in this beautiful 2001 study, The Vehement Passions. One can parse analytic distinctions between these terms (and we did some of this in class), but the basic matter seems to be this: we historians and practitioners of the related humanistic and cultural studies pursuits would seem to have dealt inadequately, as a rule, with “feelings.” With the way things feel. With the way things felt in the past. With the patterns, contours, and social circumstances of feeling — all that stuff that Raymond Williams characterized back in 1954 as the “structures of feeling.”

That’s a pretty basic way of putting it, but sometimes it is a good idea to be plainspoken about matters.

I’m not sure that the same can be said for the authors of the text presented in The Affect Reader. Erp. Such a clotted volume, in my view.

I strained uncomfortably between my very deep interest in the ostensible subject of the book and my equally deep disinterest in its treatment in the book (by and large). I am prepared to believe that the failing is mine. But I was pained to the point of despondency by what felt to me like a pervasive inert-ification of the most immediate, vital, and inward of subjects, an inert-ification achieved by the book quite against its own will, I have no doubt.

Indeed, it was that earnest sense of commitment and aspiration (toward a more intimate attunement to the affective landscape) coupled with a tragically stultifying “Socratism” that gave the book, for me, an unbearable avert-your-eyes-you-don’t-want-to-see-this-happen quality. This was a tender and strongly felt reaction. Less cognitive than, if you like, “affective.” And I offer here less in the spirit of criticism than in a spirit of pity, care, and sorrow. That these authors care deeply about affect is beyond question. That they are on the side of the angels seems to me very likely. That they are not strangers to the landscapes of feeling, embodiment, and intersubjective sensibility seems to me certain. How then, can the result of so much commitment, intelligence, and diligence — so much care, and concern and study — be… this?

Ugh. I hate to be so grumpy. But this book really made me feel kind of hopeless. I’d be delighted if any of you can freshen my weary sensibility here. Postings welcome.

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Speaking of postings, we were graced this week by several extremely thoughtful and inspiring pre-class posts, and we moved through them into Svetlana Boym’s striking book, The Future of Nostalgia. As the photograph of the blackboard above will document, we spent a lot of time rehearsing the argumentative armature of the book as a whole, via an analysis of the typological distinction Boym draws between “restorative” and “reflective” nostalgia. There is quite a bit of nuance to this, and we elaborated that nuance at some length. Even so, the basic antinomy remains robust, and affords, I think, quite a lot of traction for careful discernment within the general miasma of diverse nostalgia situations. I delivered myself of a very broad and somewhat reductive reading of the book as, in essence, an effort to “rehabilitate” (some form of) nostalgia — to define and defend a form of nostalgia that can resist assimilation to the truculent, atavistic nostalgias of virulent nationalism and the various associated reactionary tendencies. Boym’s reflective nostalgia, by these lights, represents her “good” nostalgia, the nostalgia of ironists, progressives, radicals, soulful visionaries, and tragic exiles. The nostalgia of the dreamers we like — not that of the dreamers we don’t.

This is too simplistic by half. By three-quarters. But it is not wholly wrong, either.

What were the best moments in the discussion? I liked the work we did on the skew concept of the “off-modern.” And I will not soon forget the idea of a historico-affective terrain defined by the triangle connecting Baudelaire’s “love at last sight,” Benjamin’s “angel of history,” and Nietzsche’s alpine forgetter (confronting the infinite return?). I knew Svetlana a bit before she died, and I could not help, in reading the closing sections of the book, feel the whole project resolving (in a pleasing and poignant way) into an acutely personal investigation. Reflective nostalgia becomes the equivalent of reading the morning paper in the imagined community of the exilic and rearward-regarding haplo-nationalists Boym gathers in the tender embrace of “diasporic intimacy.” This was, in effect, her family, in the end. (And that end came too soon).

[Re: how “acutely personal” this book feels (i.e. Boym’s conclusion: “‘I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy,’” claimed Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. I have tried to do the same with nostalgia.” (355)). After reading Boym’s chapter on Nabokov and nostalgia, I picked up “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight” to discover that Nabokov’s little masterpiece shares that same wistfully distorted, personal quality. Sebastian Knight, Nabokov’s alter-ego, is a Russian émigré, Cambridge-trained novelist who has died of a heart attack at the age of 37. In the wake of his early death, his half brother (a “bogus relative,” unnamed in the text) embarks to write Knight’s biography, weaving together his own breathless impressions of their childhood spent in Russia with labyrinthine passages from Sebastian’s books and the recollections of a Swiss governess, a femme-fatale in Paris, and an English literary rival. The image of Sebastian Knight constantly shape shifts: one moment, he is an aloof literary snob, the next, sparking genius, then pathetic hack pretender, prey to fantasy and distraction. And by the end of the book, the reader is no longer even certain if Sebastian himself was ever real. Is Sebastian the figment of his half brother’s stray imagination, our narrator some mildly depraved demiurge? Or is the half brother actually Sebastian — Knight’s last book was to be a “fictious biography” (40)? Either way, the two half brothers seem to merge, constituting a new kind of whole — see this passage below, where the souls of the narrator and his subject mingle. It might begin to suggest the pleasure and salutary absurdity of scholarship like Boym’s “acutely personal” work. -NB]   

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[I have to say that I loved this post, which is right on point for some of what I care about most in this class as a whole (something like a “metempsychotic” or “convergent-immersive” historical method).  And looking back from late in week 10, with Klein’s “docu-fables” in mind, Nabokov’s move here feels the more relevant, historiographically speaking.  The only moment in the post that I couldn’t quite parse was “salutary absurdity.”  NB, is that exactly what you mean?  Is it absurd, what Boym tried to do?  If so, in what way?  Help me! – DGB]

[Oh, I think my tone just wasn’t totally clear. ‘Absurdity’ is a word I wield with merriment, even joyous abandon — I’m hardly critical! (“Aplomb in the midst of irrational things” = my Whitmanian motto.) Adding ‘salutary’ to describe this kind of ‘irrationality’ is just a regrettable, ostentatious rhetorical flourish on my part! But let me see if I can work out the question: Is a refracted, personal writing of the past at all… mad? In other words, should self-investigation via history be treated with suspicion? Indeed, another Nabokov novel condemned this kind of subject-object convergence as monstrously horrific. I’m speaking of the cruel aestheticism — the “fancy prose” — of Humbert-Humbert, sensitive to everything that affects his obsession, but failing to notice the suffering of the other. It’s the ego-driven trait shared by the insufferable subjects of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: speakers who load their love-objects with their hyper self-aware verbosity and vanity. There are of course less condemning examples. Beckett called his book on Proust a “distorted steam-rolled equivalent of some aspect or confusion of aspects of myself… tied somehow on to Proust….” He is like Julian Barnes’s elderly writer in Flaubert’s Parrot, who, in researching Flaubert, ends up writing his own life story, finding “himself in the works of others.” But even when the result is moving, might it still risk reducing history to an effect of the writer’s will, to the finitude of human vanity? Perhaps that is inevitable. Maybe we should just resuscitate this romantic notion and cease banishing the historian-subject in an act of effaced self-loathing… I’m really riffing here, but what if we thought about our historical objects as soapstones we hold in our hands, molded by the grip of our fingers and lines of our palms. Certainly the less interesting thing to do would be to round off the edges into a polished, highly-stylized simulacrum of, say, a Dove soap bar. (That is properly absurd — and is kind of how I think about the project of academic writing. Un-salutary absurdity?) The challenge of this ‘convergent’ historical method perhaps then is finding the right, sensitive gasp over the material — a light-enough hold that does not crack or break the form, or disfigure it into something false and ungainly. – NB]

For me, the most affecting moment in the book was here:

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Where, for a second, I sense the possibility of a kind of “affective reading” that might reasonably stand shoulder to shoulder with “close reading” as an essential capacity of the ideal historian. I aspire to a reading of the past through “shudders and gasps.”

(I imagine, for a moment, that reading rooms and archives in the world’s great libraries ultimately have to install small sound-proof cells for the research scholars – so that the fevered groans and sputterings, the mumbling and the sudden ejaculations do not make for a bedlam).

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We closed on a lovely thought. Drawing on the Eve Sedgwick chapter posted by Tara, Jon reminded us of a basic fact:

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Basic. But I am not sure we keep it before us clearly enough…

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PRE-CLASS POSTS

Writing is a corporeal activity. We work ideas through our bodies; we write through our bodies, hoping to get into the bodies of our readers.

-Elspeth Probyn, “Writing Shame,” The Affect Theory Reader, p 76

deploy instead of unveiling

add instead of subtracting

fraternize instead of denouncing

sort out instead of debunking

-Latour (quoted in Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, 30)

“Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You” (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2003)

This summer, a friend and I bought half-heated sausage butties at St. Pancras and boarded a train to Derbyshire. We were going to see Kedleston Hall, the country seat of Lord George Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1899-1905. The desire for the trip emerged in my final few months in Pakistan and India, where I had seen Curzon’s handiwork. Did you know that Curzon radically changed the visitor’s experience of the Taj Mahal? Before, the Taj would gradually emerge from the trees, grow into its glory; then Curzon had all the trees cut down, rendering the Taj immediately and flatly visible. I haven’t been back to the Taj since I learned this, but I can anticipate already the nostalgia I might have for those trees were I to visit again (this nostalgia, as Boym points out in her elaboration of “restorative nostalgia” can be pernicious and flow into a nationalism that I do not have… I am thinking here of the Modi government’s claim that the Kohinoor diamond ought to be ‘returned’ to India).

Anyways, while in England a few days before brexit, I wanted to see Kedleston. The specificity of this desire is uninteresting, perhaps apart from the sense I had, despite myself, that Lord Curzon’s home held the key, some sort of key, to the imperial past. It was an impossible longing, an idea, as Boym might say, that “seduce[d] rather than convince[d]” (13). The “narrative plot” here rings of “conspiracy theory” (43) — an affective mood that I think in some ways haunts postcolonial studies. While Boym claims conspiracy theory as one of the two plots essential to restorative nostalgia, I’m suggesting here the role of conspiracy in shaping the reflective nostalgia that prompted my visit.

Part of my sense that this trip to Kedleston would be the key unlocking a conspiracy was that Kedleston has an uncanny double in Government House in Calcutta. In India in 1799, Charles Wyatt explicitly modeled Government House on Kedleston, which had been constructed in part by his uncle Samuel Wyatt in the 1750s. Arriving in India a hundred years later, Lord Curzon took great pleasure in this double of his natal place; it was as if it was built in anticipation of his arrival. Here you see the outlines of a nostalgia operating in the British production of imperial space.

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Boym writes that “…nostalgia, as a historical emotion, is a longing for that shrinking ‘space of experience’ that no longer fits the new horizon of expectations” (10). Thinking about the grafting of a Kedleston onto a Calcutta makes Boym’s formulation pulse and buzz. It doesn’t settle entirely into her distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia (41). For spaces of experience were at once an expansion and contraction in projects of empire. Creating a horizon where the sun never set involved projecting an expansion of the (British) ‘space of experience’ even as for colonial officials far from the metropole, it was a shrinking of that space.

I want to turn back from the nostalgia operating in this imperial doubling of Kedleston/Government House to the conspiracy-theory-ridden reflective nostalgia that brought me to Kedleston’s gate. Parallel to this move is a turn from the built environment to what it would mean to take the body as a “space of experience.” Boym writes that “nostalgia depends on materiality of place…” (258), even though, as she mentions in her preface, “nostalgia appears to be a longing for a place, but is actually a yearning for a different time” (xiv). The materiality of place that Boym focuses on in The Future of Nostalgia is primarily the urban built environment. I want to move to the body and what it does as material. I will make this move by moving inside Curzon’s Kedleston, to the basement where his “India Museum” is housed.

There is not much in the India Museum, though visitors appear to take their time there. For all, nonetheless, the main attraction is the Vicereine Curzon’s Peacock Gown. Lord Curzon’s wife wore this gown to the Delhi Durbar of 1903, that great mela of imperial might.

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The Vicereine’s Dress is a space once-inhabited, a space of experience. What is it to long for a body attached to and moving in a different time? A body that is and could never have been possible (for me), not solely because of time and the size of the Vicereine’s waist, but also because of geopolitics and race? What is it for a contemporary, so-called ‘postcolonial’ body to long for some knowledge of the imperial body’s space of experience even as it repudiates the imperial horizon of expectations?

[The contrast in bodies here is meant to be stark, crudely setting out how desiring bodies is linked to power relations. But I want to consider, also, what it is to be nostalgic for bodies as ‘spaces of experience’ in slightly more benign (or at least, less immediately nefarious) ways. Considering this raises questions about what a body is and does, including the “corporeal activity” (to use Probyn) I am doing now, sitting in Firestone with a shoulder still sore from a meningitis shot, typing into a computer that I know and that in many ways knows me. In this perhaps I differ a bit from Boym when she writes that “computers, even the most sophisticated, are notoriously lacking in affect” (354) or that “I do not know any nostalgia for a home page” (258). What is it to be nostalgic for a body and its life activity, including these exercises of writing and reading that are so often excised from the corporeal?]

…………… This whole staging of an engagement with Boym’s ‘nostalgia’ has been motivated primarily by a normative interest in how affects and ethics ought to come together in the writing and reading body. Oftentimes, affects are mapped out to provide an account of the workings of power (e.g. power relations are constitutive of XYZ affects in a body). This is an important project and I am not denigrating it; I would argue it is needed now more than ever. Nonetheless, in this frame, affects risk being taken as “keys” to a conspiracy. I have attempted to perform that here in interrogating my reflective nostalgia as a desire for “unlocking” and “demystifying” empire. I am arguing, in this convoluted way, that it is an affective effect of power to become so desirous of this very specific mode of critique that turns the world into a puzzle requiring solving, even if with great nuance (revealing!, exposing!, unlocking!, demystifying!, unveiling! etc, etc, etc).

Here is where I think we must turn to the ethics of affects in how a body orients itself to the world and within that, to reading and writing. Boym writes that “the ethical dimension of reflective longing consists in resistance to paranoic projections characteristic of nationalist nostalgia” (337). I think reflective nostalgia has its own forms of paranoic projection that must also be resisted. That is what prompted me to include the Sedgwick essay on paranoid and reparative reading at the beginning, and why it felt so obvious for a moment that Latour’s half-sentence needed to be turned into a poem.

-TS

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“…les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus.” – Marcel Proust, Le Temps Retrouvé

“Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.” – Pablo Neruda, 20 Poemas #20

Svetlana Boym’s definition of nostalgia as the desire to “revisit time like space” (Intro), and particularly of reflective nostalgia as “perpetually deferring homecoming itself” and “temporalizing space” (ch. 5), made me think back to Sebald’s narrator’s spatial-temporal collapse in Rings of Saturn. The reflective nostalgic revels in the feeling of longing itself, in “romance with one’s own fantasy” (Intro), and yet it is the reflective nostalgic who accepts that time is relentlessly linear.

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I’m interested in the blurring of lines between longing for place, longing for time past (and/or future), and other kinds of longings – particularly for fictions, their characters, and their authors. Over fall break, I visited the Brontë Parsonage in Yorkshire for Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary. It was my fourth time there, and I, like your average Brontëmaniac, felt an instant recognition with the landscape of the moors the first time I visited and have felt nostalgia for it ever since. I’ve never been a fanatic about Brontë biographical minutia, but I am fascinated by those who are, those who conflate the Brontës, their characters, the moor, the parsonage, the churchyard, Lowood School, Thornfield Hall, Wuthering Heights. (An excellent historiography of Brontë scholarship and devoted fanaticism is Lucasta Miller’s The Brontë Myth (2001).)

I find myself asking: Doesn’t anyone have a favorite sister anymore? I don’t even like Wuthering Heights. It’s Charlotte’s bicentenary, and the extra exhibitions at the Parsonage are indiscriminately about Charlotte, Emily, Anne, Jane Eyre, Branwell Brontë, Mr. Rochester, Constantin Heger (Charlotte’s unrequited love), Heathcliff, and so on. As Svetlana Boym says, reflective nostalgia is interested in detail; specificity, however, seems more dispensable.

For the bicentenary, the Brontë Society published a book of poems called Every Sounding Line, by the Parsonage’s writer-in-residence for the year, Grace McCleen. Passages from the book were scattered around the Parsonage, seeming at once melodramatic, even twee, and trenchant. McCleen relishes Brontëana and listens for echoes across the moors and across time, but ultimately she laments the ultimate impossibility of bridging the temporal gap (which she expects to do by losing herself in the moor). This message seems bleak, like defeat, but it doesn’t read that way. It reads like triumphant bleakness, a vindication. Boym’s book clarifies why that’s the case: if the nostalgic search had an end or a resolution, then the pure unrequited love of the nostalgic pursuit would die. Instead, it is crystallized and preserved in the textual account of pilgrimage and longing. McCleen can return to the Brontës’ landscape as many times as she wants; the whiff of temporal collapse will still be there, as will the sweetness of its loss.

Here are some excerpts from the first section of McCleen’s book, “The Way to the Ruin,” on the popular trek from the parsonage to Top Withens, the ruined farmhouse said to have inspired Wuthering Heights. Ultimately, the landscape stands in for all of the associations with the Brontës’ books, their biographies, and their characters.

1. “What I see now and not only when I think of them/ but in states of vacancy, in drifting awareness, / behind other things and beneath them also; / especially before sleep, is the day that I walked to the ruin. / Or – not the day, exactly – but the land as it looked, looking back / from the ruin. As if I was the land, or it was me.”

2. “I stopped by the wall and put my cheek to it and thought / how Emily might have leaned here and touched this stone, / which had and would outlive us both. / Then I thought how unreal it was that I had now walked / where they had walked; seen their combs, their samplers, their / shoes, their home. And then how much realer it should have felt. / And of my inability to make it so.”

3. “If their spirit lived anywhere it must be here, though. / If their genii could be persuaded / to afford the mendicant a breath or a glimpse / or an echo – even if only refracted, only by remiss – / if any thing / could be summoned / or persuaded by promises, anguish or oaths / to grant a wish / it would be here; / not in the village; / not in the church – rebuilt after they were dead; / not in the house now a museum; / here, in the land.”

4. “Instead of a haunting / I was forced to admit / I was extraordinarily / alone.”

And from the second part of the book, “Discoveries,” on the nostalgia for and remembrance of things not even known to oneself:

5. “I knew them so well/ they came to seem a part of myself. / They found their way inside / me to such an extent / that even the parsonage / did not seem new, / though I had not even heard it described / or seen pictures of it before. / And to visit for the first time, / one sun-filled day in late September, / rather than an introduction, / was like finally coming home.”

-RR

[Longing for fictions. Yes. I’m wondering how longing for fictions also extends Boym’s “materiality of place.”  I think to the first time I read “But what am I doing in this stereoscopic dreamland?” in Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Reading the phrase quoted in Boym made me realize that the words “stereoscopic dreamland” for me are at once a time and place I am nostalgic for but are also immediately present in the words. I am nostalgic for the words that I have before me.  The space of experience and the horizon of expectations map onto each other, but they also, somehow, don’t. TS]

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What is the right color for an un-called-for pre-class post?

  1. Maybe “Nostalgia” can be a more interesting concept, certainly more interesting than “Fascism”, for thinking about the recent political upheavals?
  2. As someone who suffers from nostalgia to the USSR by proxy, I would like to recommend everybody to read this book . Espeically for those of us who had to leave their countries in order to come here. My friend gave it to me as a farewell gift, and asked me to read it on the flight from Israel to America. I could not think of a better gift.

 

-ORS

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“In other words, what concerns me is not solely the inner space of an individual psyche but the interrelationship between individual and collective remembrance. A psychiatrist won’t quite know what to do with nostalgia; an experimental art therapist might be of more help.” (41)

A couple of years ago I had my first foray into Eastern Europe by way of a brief and tidy solo trip to Kiev researching private art collections.

It was a singularly disorienting voyage into questionable depths.

I, unfortunately, had no idea what I was doing. I had never interviewed anyone before and I had never encountered the multitudinous levels of beaurocratic red tape required for any form of access, past or present. Emails, letters, phone calls, mixed translations and broken English. While still trying to make sense of what the contours of contemporary research would look like (or for that matter research in general). I was also painfully, acutely, aware of the panic and horror on my professor’s face when I suggested the Ukraine as my desired place of travel. Why not Western Europe? Greece (the origin of the generous funding structure of the seminar)? Or even perhaps Korea? Japan?

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to explore other critical and important global economies, he was just personally worried about sending a young female student off foraging for material in territories with a questionably stable government.

It was understandable. I wasn’t so sure of it myself.

And a year or two later the 2014 protests ousted Viktor Yanukovych.

Precarious and suspect governance aside, the weather was also abysmal. Grey and drab, with schizophrenic precipitation. I was the only one who had to pack away a down coat during spring break. I also didn’t have enough research money left over for proper meals. Instead I subsisted on a steady diet of pre-prepared meals that I would select by the timeless and very un-complex system of pointing and nodding towards the delicacy of choice under the sneeze glass of the deli in the underground grocery story near my hotel. I was limited to what was available at the end of the day, and it was… not pretty.

I had also diligently promised my professor. Given my own unease, poor public lighting and the peculiar niche of urban wilderness my hotel was situated, this meant that when the sun set (5pm or 6pm) I was off to my tiny 12’ x 12’ hotel room. (It didn’t occur to me, with my meager means, to travel by taxi or car.)

And yet I’m nostalgic for it. Why?

Because in the eerie claustrophobic lighting of my less than stellar room, I remember reading Security Territories and Population for the first time. I remember moving through these unrelentingly foreign spaces and minds by day, where topographies of governance and foreign collective memory pressed at me constantly, and retreating back to my small insular space at night. And in this constant expansion and compression I could find my own “mechanisms of consciousness.” (351)

-HN

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POST-CLASS THOUGHT

[I’ve been thinking a lot about the proposition I made (which some rejected) that reflective nostalgics by Boym’s definition accept the fundamental linearity of time, even if they are interested in an emotional experience of it that feels folded (or circular or some other shape). I came across this article by architect Juhani Pallasmaa, The Space of Time – Mental Time in Architecture, which I think is a very honest assessment of architecture’s relationship to time. He recognizes that architecture is fundamentally to do with the past and the present (or, more reasonably, the very recent past), whereas architects in modernist mode want architecture to face forward and be built for the future. Perhaps most notably for this class (and most damning of modernism, which Boym also critiques), he points out that “we have even changed our bodily position in relation to the flow of time. The Greeks understood that the future came from behind their backs and the past receded away in front of their eyes. We have turned our faces towards the future and past is disappearing behind our backs.”

Generally, the article makes a strong argument for the fundamental relationship of architecture to the questions about time we’ve been dealing with in this class. For instance: “Architecture, also, creates its own altered reality, in which perceptions and experiences of space, duration and gravity are transformed. Architecture projects specific horizons of perception and understanding. Buildings also condition our reading of time; like the cinematic or literary arts, they can speed up, slow down, halt and reverse time. Great buildings are not mere temporal symbols or metaphors, they are museums and stores of time. As we enter a great building, its particular silence and mode of time guide our experiences and emotions. In fact, the depth of cultural time is measured and expressed primarily by architectural constructions. Just imagine how shallow and scaleless our sense of history would be without the image of the Egyptian pyramids in our minds.”

-RR]

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Readings for the Ninth Week:

Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia

Consider:

Gregg and Seigworth, eds., The Affect Theory Reader