Nostalgic Moments

Simon Robb



1. I'm sitting by a pond. Remembering loving postmodern research writing. There are lilies on the water. Writing not unified in terms of a logical argument progression. Across the grassy area, ducks and children are playing. It's touching, the old old style, the love of criticism for its object. There's a slight breeze in the trees. Recalling the fragmented style: opaque; embodied; de-centred; un-motivated. It's so quiet there, as if the city had past on. The old old aims of originality, of being disembodied, faint and dank. I visit the hot house. It remains within a single-discipline. There at the back is another pond. There the new old takes on the aesthetic mode of modernity  -  collage. Everything is sleepy with heat, even the gold-fish. I have never not been here. There's a lotus flower, opening and stretching itself. Recalling the aims of an outmoded technology, writing performing its object. The succulent is breathing moist air. Its structures immersed. I bend down and see tiny red flowers. Remembering, not moving to a condition of complete or final knowing. It's exploding slowly. Entertaining, pleasurable, stimulating. I'm falling into minute territories. I become too small, as if I were never alive, and am reluctant to go on writing, with the other adults, who're so gigantic. An immersion of the essay in and out of understanding. A chain of reasoning follows a chain of ponds, beside a nature ensemble. Always contradictory in terms of its aims.

2. I want to look back at Greetings from Adelaide, and I want to think about nostalgia along the way. Or even, to think longingly about an outdated technology, which my work has become, and so to fall into the grip of a nostalgia. I may write with a longing for connection, the desire for desire, for that future re-union with a never existing utopia, where authenticity and transcendence are both present and everywhere. Like electronic writing that is old before it could ever be new. The fetishizing of an outmoded technology, perhaps its a mode of a critical self-reflection, a writing that cannot be purely modern. And here I'm referring to the old postmodern, and its settlement with a certain writing loss.

3. Nostalgia is a sadness without an object, a sadness that of necessity is inauthentic because it does not take part in lived experience. The writing enters the space of the other only at the moment when entry is abandoned. When the desire to enter into is renounced, an opening appears in the space of that desire's absence. Nostalgia, like any form of narrative, is always ideological: the past it seeks has never existed except in narrative, and hence, always absent, that past continually reproducing itself as a felt lack. And it is into this space that the other flows. As if invited, it moves into you, moving your writing. Hence the law "I cannot penetrate". And this mysterious entry, occasioned by a passive receiving, you do this for another. It is a gift, given by making nothing happen. Hostile to history and its invisible origins, and yet longing for an impossibly pure context of lived experience at a place of origin, nostalgia wears a distinctly utopian face, a face that turns toward a future past, a past that has only ideological reality. Effacing identity in the presence of what has gone before. The remembered thing, the time without time, the cuddly one. The point of desire which the nostalgic seeks is in fact the absence that is the very generating machine of desire...these things, they reach into you, and you with their emanations, resonating, becoming past. Renouncing, giving, emanating past and present at the appearance of writing...the realisation of re-union imagined by the nostalgic is a narrative utopia that works only by virtue of its partiality, its lack of fixity and closure: nostalgia is the desire for desire.

4. Fetishizing an outmoded technology, I'm picturing myself on the electronic screen, like a vain star, exhausted, faintly emanating the old postmodern. I'm simulating a personal history. What is it that will be done away with, along with this photograph which yellows, fades, and will some day be thrown out, if not by me...at least when I die? I'm picturing myself in the past giving homage to discipline writing. It may be practiced in diverse ways, where the issue for users become, on the one hand, the attachment of appropriate feelings toward their own histories, products and capabilities, and on the other hand, their detachment from - and active resistance to-disempowering conditions of postcolonial life. Not only "life" (this was alive, this posed in front of the lens), but also, sometimes-how to put it?-love. Digital, pathetic, interactive. In front of the only photograph in which I find my mother and father together, this couple who I know loved each other, I realise: it is love-as-treasure which is going to disappear forever; for once I am gone, no one will any longer be able to testify to this: nothing will remain but an indifferent nature. The rupture from present conduct permitted by this social action of extension towards sources opens subjects to creative reconfiguration: nostalgic practice invites self-problematization. Picturing emotional redundancy, writing unconvincing hyperbole, trite and vapid. This is a laceration so intense, so intolerable, that alone against his century, Michelet conceived of History as love's protest: to perpetuate not only life but also what he called, in his vocabulary so outmoded today, the Good, Justice, Unity. Although nostalgia may be a machine of knowledge, it's still a yearning for something lost.

5. He was talking about old telephones I think. Recalling a writing of many genres, resonating from one to the other, distinct and yet inhabiting a similar space. Any way, he said that nostalgia was the fetishizing of outmoded technology. To be in many places at one time and above all to be linked to something larger. A special kind of love, being fixed and fixated upon an object. Information technology, its moving so fast that electronic writing is always out of date, out of time, always being made to be a past technology. This is a writing towards an emotional engagement with what has moved us, what has past and is passing through us. To be nostalgic. To be in a state of longing. These words, they seem to me to be well suited to a time of recovery, that has suffered so much tearing, cutting and destruction. Longing for something that has past to reappear, so that we can revel in an arrived utopia. These connections, they are an opening to each other. The utopian realisation of postmodern theory embodied in certain technologies. Writing like a dying star performing. From the 60s. Outmoded theory fetishized and realised in an ever redundant technology. In a shadow, even. Admitting a depression, an understanding gap. The promises of postmodern theory have become so much banality. Placing myself into this field, as a researcher, it includes a certain commentary, explication, argumentation, basically critical elucidation through formal argument. So sentimental and naive. Touching, pitiable, affecting, tender, exciting pity or sympathetic sadness, inviting scorn because of shortcomings. It would always be this way, with nostalgic writing. All this is writing that sees itself and its own immersion in what it is not and what it has always been.

6. And the love affair with postmodern research writing, taking this to the electronic screen. I'm at the Art Gallery. There's an exhibition taking place. Of Surreal and Dada objects. Remembering that this was so new and promising: opaque; embodied; de-centred; un-motivated. Behind a glass box, there are two puppets, Dada dolls made from tin and old paint and bits of trash. Network writing, writing which can be entered at any point, which can be reversed, and which doesn't lose out for this. They have strings and sticks attached. An oscillation between different discursive styles and goals. There is something terrible here. A linkage, network and interactivity constructed in terms of a movement between parallel structures of writing. As if these things are dead. Now, with it, and totally interactive. As if they are rotten and stinking and should be buried. I'm not hostile to them, just appalled. As if I were looking at a corpse. The more the better therefore, and the less the worse off you are. The cadaver is just so quiet, so full of what has departed it. And these links, so similar to making significant choices. So non-human, as if it had become someone else. Then I remembered that interactivity is a technology for making us free. What has departed from these toys is their makers. I felt so strongly the departed Dada spirit. Falling victim here to the kind of capitalist ideology. That had fled the corpse. That equates freedom with shopping. That this puppet could not move again. I felt the disappearance of creative people. In other words, of vanity, fashion, individualism, banality and adolescence. Their passing on had left this thing behind, that would not be animate. Its machines are corpses of our creativity. I felt the passing of an art. I felt at one with the passing of time and the fatality of art. Viewed as a whole I was sick with nostalgia for the present.


References

Paragraph 2 and 3 includes quotes from page 23 of: Susan Stewart. "On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection." Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1984.

Paragraph 4 contains quotes from pages 77 and 93 of: Debbora Battaglia. "On Practical Nostalgia: Self-Prospecting Among Urban Trobrianders." in "Rhetorics of Self-Making." Ed. Debbora Battaglia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 77-96.

Paragraph 4 also contains quotes from page 94 of: Roland Barthes. "Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography." (1980) Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.

Paragraphs 3 and 5 contain quotes from *Greetings from Adelaide.*





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