Nostalgia, to me, is that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you think about how things used to be. For example, remember when CD-ROMs were really cool? You really have to be a true geek to get nostalgic about old computer equipment. Whenever I hear the beep of an Apple II, or something that sounds like it, it captures my attention immediately.

One interesting idea would be, at the next USENIX or other event where lots of geeks hang out, to broadcastan Apple II beep over the intercom. I bet more people than not will turn their heads.

For me, nostalgia isn't about wanting to go back to simpler times; it's more about remembering our past. Where we've been, and conversely, where we're going.
Though the Greek roots of the word suggest a longing to return home, the word nostalgia often refers to a sentimental longing for a past one may never have experienced, or that in all probability never existed.

Artists who use visual representations of mass-produced products (advertising logos, for example), and politicians who evoke an image of, for example, the American dream in the past (perhaps, unwittingly, even an image created by advertising industry), create nostalgia: the image itself may have enough power to implicate everyone in a shared experience of the past, and thus turn the modern world into a small, close-knit society. And if these images date back to our childhood or adolescence, we may associate them with that time of life when we had fewer responsibilities, less experience of the complexities of life, and less cynicism.

      Contrary to common sense, it seems the articulation of nostalgia comes to us from medicine, not poetry, as the word is a combination of the Greek nostos (meaning 'return home') and from the New Latin algia ('longing') - and though the concept seems ancient, the word itself did not itself appear until 1688, showing up as a new form of malady in the dissertation of a Swiss medical student, Johannes Hofer. At the time, the astute philological observer characterized the illness as 'the sad mood originating from the desire to return to one's own land.'ß The group he first diagnosed with this horrible ailment were usually university students studying in urban centers around Europe, far from their family farms, domestic servants brought by their lords to work abroad in France or Germany, or soldiers (in particular the Swiss). õ
      Symptoms (which were thought also at the time to be strangely similar to tuberculosis) among various subjects were found by various examiners of the early 1700s to include:
  1. developing 'erroneous representations' that caused the afflicted to lost touch with the present,
  2. longing for their native land which build to an all-consuming obsession,
  3. a 'lifeless and haggard countenance' and 'indifference toward everything'.
      This symptoms all built to the point where longing for the homeland and green pastures of youth aroused 'an uncommon and ever-present ideal of the native land in the mind', until the vital spirit of the afflicted became exhausted, which was then usually followed by loss of appetite, nausea, pathological changes in the lungs, inflammation of the brain, cardiac palpitations, feverish sweats, 'maramus' and finally a propensity to morbidity and potentially suicide. American doctors much later, during the Civil War, noted the disease lead to a crippling idleness of daydreaming, erotomania and onanism. The best solution and surest treatment arrived at was the teasing jibes of others, as the 'patient can often be laughed out of it by his comrades, or reasoned out of it by appeals to his manhood.' No unlike the 17th century soldiers of the Swiss valleys, soldiers from rural areas and particularly farms were found during the conflict to be particularly susceptible to this sentimental temperament. The enduring question then, for poets and philosophers (since the doctors pretty much gave up on the treatment), is are these differences and propensities towards maudlin memory an effect of one's culture? As a forth coming book argues, "every language it seems now has a special word for homesickness that its speakers claim to be radically untranslatable," :
German : heimweh (as opposed to 'unheimlich', which is unfamiliar or uncanny),
French : maladie du pays (sickness of states?),
Spanish : mal de corazón (ill of heart),
Czech : litost (a mix of sympathy, grief, remorse and longing),
Russian : toska (a desire for intimacy mixed with the resentment of the ordinary),
Polish : tesknota,
Portuguese : saudade (a sorrow of too many loves, near and far),
Romanian : dor (wracking pain for the lost).

ßThe good doctor Hofer also toyed with the use of the terms nosomania or philopatridomania, just going to show you can psycho-pathologize just about anything.
õ Swiss alienists found that gastronomic and auditory stimulus were particularly prone to produce attacks of nostalgia, after they experimented on young soldiers stationed abroad by placing rustic soups from home, thick village milk or having others sing the folk songs of the Alpine valleys. Such crippling waves of nostalgia rolled over Scotish soldiers in a similar test after hearing bagpipes that military officers effectively banned singing folk tunes while on duty.

Svetlana Boym. The Future of Nostalgia (Cambridge : Harvard Press, 2001).

Nos*tal"gi*a (?), n. [NL., fr. Gr. a return home + pain.] Med.

Homesickness; esp., a severe and sometimes fatal form of melancholia, due to homesickness.


© Webster 1913.

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