Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

Deconstructing Nostalgia or “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

If you’ve ever seen the play Avenue Q on Broadway (I haven’t, for the record) then you are probably familiar with the reference that I’m making in the title. For everyone else, here is the clip to which I am referring:

Now that you are sufficiently entertained, on to the serious stuff (kind of, I’m hardly ever fully serious). I was provoked to write this post by Professor Groom whose comment on my last post was as follows:

Can you be nostalgic for something you are still in? The root of nostalgia is actually Greek and it means a returning home, I wonder how that informs your relationship to UMW. How was this place over the course of four years like a home for you? What might that mean?

In class, we talked about the idea of nostalgia and how pervasive it is in ones life at any age. Here in this post I will examine what the word nostalgia means in its actual usage, how it correlates to the concept of home, and how I understand nostalgia and the concept of home.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, nostalgia means the “sentimental longing for or regretful memory of a period of the past, esp. one in an individual’s own lifetime; (also) sentimental imagining or evocation of a period of the past.”

According to Wikipedia, “the word is a learned formation of a Greek compounds, consisting of nóstos, ‘returning home’, a Homeric word, and álgos, ‘pain’ or ‘ache’”…if you want to see some fun Greek letters, check out the Wikipedia article). Also according to the OED, nóstos means a “homecoming or homeward journey as a literary subject or topos; spec. the return of Odysseus and the other Greek heroes of the Trojan War, as narrated esp. in the Odyssey.”

What is interesting here is how the word nostalgia in its usage has become attached to the idea of yearning for home; home being something to which one returns. It is fixed in the past despite the fact that a return to home is a future event; something to which one looks forward.

In my last post, I talked about missing things at UMW that I can still experience or attend. I guess what has changed is how I experience those things. For a season, my foreseeable future was at school so enjoying and taking advantage of my time at Mary Wash was the most important thing. However, as a Senior moving quickly towards my last semester, I’m learning to recognize that my college experience is soon ending. I am reconciling myself to this. The season of college will soon be over but a new season will begin and I’ll pursue God’s will disregarding my circumstances.

The notion of ‘home’ in the definition of nostalgia practically demands to be deconstructed. My apartment is home here at UMW. Professor Groom asked, “How was this place over the course of four years like a home for you?” I consider my apartment to be like a home because my “flatmates” (they love that I call them that) are like my family. My apartment is my retreat from the chaos of college life. I’m sitting at my laptop right now at the kitchen table. From this seat, I can observe the futon that’s always a bed (Sadie’s bed), our comfy plaid couch, our ginormous rug, our bookshelf with its mess of books and papers, the view of the brick Episcopalian church, the beautiful Fall foliage. I have many fond memories of this place. I blogged about my apartment life and based on the pictures in the post, Katie Jones (flatmate #1) said that “based on these pictures, we don’t look like we’re in college. we look like we’re all constantly waking up having just rolled out of bed–which I guess is what that snowstorm period actually was.”

I’m the type of person who likes to think about the future and prepare for it emotionally and physically. So, I can look towards the future and envision a time when I won’t have UMW as home any more. My current flatmates will soon become former flatmates. However, as a Christian, the idea of home is cannot really be understood as a physical place. I’ll let the Word of God explain this better than I can:

1For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.6So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(2 Corinthians 5:1-10 ESV) *emphasis is mine **the “tent” that is referenced here is the flesh or the physical body

Like it says in this passage, a Christian’s true home is in Heaven. I heard a great quote the other day, “you can’t ever kill a Christian, you just change his address.” This is how I understand the concept of home. Home is a place to which one looks forward to returning to but that return is an event that is fixed in the future. UMW is a home. My house in Chantilly is a home as well. My eternal Home though is with my Father in Heaven. My friend Liz wrote a great blog post that discusses this idea titled “In My Father’s House.”

Going back to the definition that Wiki provides, the Greek word salad of nóstos, “returning home” and álgos, “pain” or “ache” is exactly what the Scripture passage is describing, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” I long to be in Heaven with God. That longing for Home (capitalization is intentional) is nostalgia. Therefore, I feel nostalgic for the future, for a place to which I’ve never been. Upon doing this deconstruction (that’s what you do with a B.A. in English), I understand nostalgia now.

I’ll leave you with Sara Grove’s “Going Home” which is a beautiful illustration of how Christians feel nostalgic.