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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Back to Nostalgia for the Future

After I posted this morning, mostly rejecting the notion of “nostalgia for the future,” I remembered something Eliot Weinberger wrote: that the post-War generation was the first to have grown up without the assurance of a future for the species, and that every subsequent generation has never known life without the shadow of extinction. The prospect of nuclear catastrophe makes any future questionable.

Maybe that’s what the future-nostalgists are talking about. A nostalgia for a past in which our species was guaranteed a future.

There is something to that, but I don’t think that is what they are talking about. I have no doubt that Michael J. Fox is nostalgic for a culture which believed in a future of scientific progress. And maybe his hope for a cure constitutes a nostalgia for the future.

* * *

All-time worst fake-nostalgic moment in the movies: In Field of Dreams, with the fictional cantankerous black Civil Rights writer played by James Earl Jones waxing nostalgic for pre-Jackie Robinson pro ball. In the book (Shoeless Joe), the cantankerous nostalgic writer is named J. D. Salinger. Much more interesting -- with the benefit of not being insulting to our sense of decency.

Though a suburban white kid teaching Chuck Berry his licks has to rank down there too.

You want Chuck’s guitar source, check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

(No relation, as far as I know, to Dylan’s new collaborator Twyla. The collaboration was Dylan’s idea. Will anybody ask him why, or what he thinks of it?)

Keep on rockin’.
OT, is that Pete Seeger in the background, rockin' out to SRT?


Omigosh -- it is!

The pic is from a Newport Folk Fest in the early '60s, so he would have been there. I'll have to check his book to see if he says anything about her.
Let me throw in my 2 cents re "nostalgia for the future" (a term I remember first encountering 15-20 years ago, though I can no longer remember where--and even worse, I can't remember what the writer meant by it, either, though I do remember being impressed & charmed by the concept.)
"Nostalgia," as you pointed out in one of your earlier posts, means the pain & suffering of a lost home. "Home" is the key here: "Nostalgia for the future" must then mean, in some sense, the pain & suffering resulting from the inability to reach a home that exists ONLY in the future--a paradoxical "home" where you have never yet been. And it seems to me that this is exactly the feeling about himself--and the myth of himself--Dylan lays out at the very beginning of the Scorsese film when he says he had a sense as a child (or so he says--probably a lot of back remembering here) of being born a far distance from his home & that his life would be a journey home. He takes this one step further (implicitly) in "Beyond the Horizon," a song from the new CD Modern Times, which is about a home we are all seeking and will NEVER get to & so will always be in the future--but a real home nonetheless, a home that for all ita unattainabbility is strangely comforting & reassuring. The whole feeling of this song is what I would call a "nostalgia for the future." It's a feeling that first surfaces in Dylan at the very end of "Highlands," where the Highlands is a mythical place he is heading but can't get to--"but I'm there in my mind/and that's good enough for now."
It wouldn't surprise me to discover (or be reminded) that whoever coined this term did so in a religious/spiritual context.
Thanks, John H.

I remember thinking when I heard Highlands that death was Dylan's Highlands. In the original Robert Burns poem, he waxes nostalgic for a physical place -- the Scottish Highlands.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer -
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
The birth place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high cover'd with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer -
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Dylan's Highlands lack physical reality -- he spiritualizes Burns's real place.

And that reminds me of Xavier Villaurrutia, whom I shall talk about in a post. Thanks again.

Yes, I think that (in some sense) Dylan is singing about death--but his conception of death is as odd as Whitman's--a conception I think I probably "understand" but that I am skeptical that I actually "get." Relatedly, in a very early (1964-1965) interview--maybe it's the famous Nat Hentoff Playboy interview, but I'm not sure--Dylan praises something--either folk music in general or a specific folk singer--as (I'm quoting from memory) the "only genuine death you can get off a record these days." I've never been able to digest that statement--or forget it.

Also, the Villaurrutia poem you quote does strike me as on the same theme, but it feels more like Wallace Stevens that Whitman or Dylan--i.e., I both get and understand it. It sounds more knowing & less haunted that Dylan or Whitman.
I'm interested in your linking Dylan to Whitman in regards to death. "Haunted" feels right. Villarrutia, by contrast, feels more desolate -- not even any ghosts there.

Thanks again.
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