Nostalgia’s not what it used to be…
The desire to document the documentable is a neurosis. We reach into our pocket, bring out our phone, and it meets the thousands of other handheld devices all whirring away over our shoulders or under our ears, each towards a concert stage. It’s a strange person whose simple pleasure it is to be fully invested in a show. In moments of pessimism, (moments such as when my own view was once completely obstructed by two locked elbows and an obese i-pad), I can only describe this as a moribund group mind that is always coping for less exciting times ahead. If there is a lurking rational, one which confirms this diagnosis as a strong neurosis rather than a mild psychosis, then it is a rational aimed at two things: firstly, to encourage others to live vicariously through our oh so perfect lives, and, secondly, to relive moments in retrospect.
There’s no shame in wanting to make private memories public, but can we enjoy the present when we’re this obsessed with the upkeep of future nostalgia? Modern day self-obsession is in some ways far worse than I ever realised; not only do we rarely deep read, but some of us can’t even give ourselves up to a single screen. We’d rather the movie on the wall be background noise, pretty colours to glance at, enervating distractions to be indulged in, in between the long minutes we spend with the rectangle of light at the end of our nose. In contradistinction to the aforementioned strange loner who doesn’t video the gig he’s attending, at comedy skits the oddball is the one who videos it, and has to do so furtively – comedy is apparently the only remaining anodyne to all this, keeping us laughing and our phones tucked away. And yet so deep into our skin has the drip been shoved that even with comedy, the last longform piece we’re able to sit through, there’s one or two who still try video it. The instinctive itch to gather as much footage as we can cannot be resisted.
I argue here not against the act of recording alone, but against prolonged recording, that which cannot but diminish élan. The photos we collect are in some ways… well, erm… nice, you know… the solicitude with which a collage is assembled; but the frequency and volume of all this pre-emptive remembering nevertheless changes the way we remember. Our memories cannot easily come to us as moments of lucid fluidity, and become instead moments of frozen incomprehension: all too accessible windows into the past, windows which for all our peering only show us our own reflection. The photo itself becomes the memory, and the act of remembering the only thing left to be remembered. However unlikely this may seem now it will be so in the future – it is through good authorship that we know that one day we will marvel at our bygone licks of love and wonder how we ever could have forgotten so much.
Nostalgia is never one image: it cannot be consistent because it comes upon us inconsistently. Nostalgia is more like an unmaintainable mood – a youthful unrest. It is the difference between singing a song about sprinklers and cotton candy, and singing a song not about garden sprinklers and cotton candy, but in such a way that circles those specifics without naming them and implies even more besides – a childhood song, brown matchbox cards, and swimming pool cannonballs. Previous generations will have had richer memories than we, which is fitting, given the way we circumcise the word – “mems.” Nostalgia’s not what it used to be, but then again, what is?