Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, November 02, 2006

About a month ago I switched from working 4 days a week to 5. Two reasons. Fingers Hilarity started pre-school, and he loves it, and asked to go Every Day; and, my job simultaneously got super busy. So no more Tuesdays with the kid, which we had had together since he was a few months old and my beloved spouse’s maternity leave ended. But this morning my spouse has a meeting and so I went to work at 8 for about 75 minutes, and came back for a couple of hours, and then will go back to work this afternoon. And it’s nice! To be home!

Right now Mr. Hilarity is making his bed, which is a major daily artistic production.

We’ve been compiling pictures of his beds into a slide show, and I just added a song, as is so easy on a computer: Sheryl Crow singing “Mother Nature’s Son.” The movies know this: the combination of music and imagery wallops the emotions. Six and a half years ago friends of ours adopted a girl from China. My beloved spouse and I went with them to be tourists together for a week beforehand. A few years later they sent us a DVD of a slide show of their daughter, including the trip to China and their girl getting bigger, and set it to a sweet medley of “What a Wonderful World” and “Over the Rainbow” sung by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, and every time I watched it I cried.

Simon has more good stuff on “nostalgia for the future,” and as I have thought about the phrase more, I have grown to mostly reject it as anything more than a teasing contradiction -- not really a paradox, which is a “seeming contradiction,” but a para-paradox, something that seems to be a seeming-contradiction, but is really merely a contradiction.

One can only be nostalgic for experiences of which one has confidence in their actual occurrence. So I can think of three circumstances in which one could be nostalgic for the future.

First, a kid can be nostalgic for growing up. “When I’m bigger I can do that!” This is real. But this is not what future-nostalgists are talking about. And is it even nostalgia? Or is it anticipation? Remembering it now, it feels like impatient anticipation, versus the excited anticipation of, say, dressing for a date.

Second, a dying person can be nostalgic for the future he or she won’t share. I know my dad was experiencing that. When I told I’d miss him like crazy, a few days before he died, he said he’d miss me too, but that’s the way it goes. Even more, he regretted leaving his grandchildren. They were the ones he was happiest to see in his last days. But from what I can glean, I don’t feel that future nostalgists are talking about anything so intimate or personal.

The future-nostalgists seem to be talking about a more social circumstance, less intimate, more utopian -- Moses nostalgic for the Promised Land. But I’m not convinced that Ned Rorem or Brian Eno really felt these things. If they were confident of a brighter future that they would personally experience, then that would be anticipation. Simply imagining a better social circumstance is mere wistfulness, not nostalgia. Confidence in a brighter future combined with confidence in the impossibility of one’s sharing that future is rare, and bound up with mortality.

Walter Benjamin, in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” explicitly says that almost nobody is nostalgic for the future:

‘One of the most remarkable characteristics of human nature,’ writes Lotze, ‘is, alongside so much selfishness in specific instances, the freedom from envy which the present displays toward the future.’ Reflection shows us that our image of happiness is thoroughly colored by the time to which the course of our own existence has assigned us.

This makes sense to me. Utopian hopes remain utopian hopes, and working toward making them real remains independent of believing that they will actually occur. Hope comes only from the working-toward, and from finding temporary, local instances of the actuality, however limited and ultimately compromised.

The bed is made. Good morning!
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