Penultimate Times Blues: Nostalgia as Disclosure of Truth
The bitter sweet mood of nostalgia appears to be one of those passé items pushed onto very margins of the emotional market of today.
This is hardly surprising if we recall that its inherent finality, i.e. a realization of finite and unchangeable character of one’s past from which it originates, does not fit the contemporary molds of social acceptability and overall “cool factor”.
Indeed, social acceptability is still “a thing”, regardless of the fact that its priorities became inverted – after all, if you’re, for example, irritated by middle aged people covering themselves in tattoos, it is not socially acceptable to tell some of their number that not two decades ago they wouldn’t be able to land a decent job because of it, and that inherently anti-social and body-denigrating character of extreme tattooing was, with full right, considered a bad reference in decent society.
So, as always, when it comes to destruction, its not about abolishing but about inverting – whenever someone says he is free from prejudices of the past, you can place a safe bet on him appropriating and inverting the same for his own ends.
Man cannot help being hypocrite, but generation claiming it’s been vaccinated against hypocrisy probably cannot help being anything else but a bunch of hypocrites.
Finality disclosed by nostalgia, that is: the indication of the true character of the past that our intellect is provoked to apprehend by this mood, is, as we shall see, something that could be understood as the total opposite to a superficially easy going attitude of our day and age.
Past is the temporal dimension of Being disclosing the necessity, reality and overall stability of It; the notion that past is a non-existent ‘now’ or moment that ‘was’, but is no more, is entirely false.
In truth, the past is as real as the present, only its not here.
But being not here doesn’t mean not being at all.
If there’s a truth that postmodern man hates, this is it: there’s a reality outside of my reality; there’s something in the nothingness of the past epochs I denounced; there’s a reality before all reality and I will never be able to go beyond it, because it will forever be before me.
And that’s why the past is shunned like a plague.
On the other hand, most people do not understand that today the defense of the past has very little or even nothing to do with being conservative.
Someone who truly endeavors to have connection to his past reality – to his origin, that is – knows very well that “preservation urge”, always inherent to conservative attitude, is something rather inadequate, because the attack is not simply on values, institutions and memorials but on the very temporal dimension itself.
For some of us it all began in the first year of the Nineties, when our world more or less came apart, but full disclosure began only in the early Naughties, in all its forms: from peculiar nausea, coming from the sense of void creeping and coiling around edges of consciousness, to suicidal trajectory of the whole generation, often succinctly anticipated by the underground and even mainstream art of the late- or post-communist countries, from Russia to Yugoslavia.
Not many recognized what was happening and, naturally, if sensitive and overall decent people, they paid the high prize of those who catch a new and unknown disease with no idea of treatment or indeed not recognizing that they’re being infected at all.
Yet, ontological moods are something you cannot deny because you cannot help having them.
By this term we denote the immediate albeit inarticulate disclosures of truth coming to pass in the lives of individuals and, quite often, entire generations. While we reject the possibility of taking this phenomenon as the basis for philosophical research, or indeed its end, as Martin Heidegger attempted in his early phase to disastrous results, we cannot and should not deny its existence.
Ontological mood is the quality one’s soul acquires in response to inner prompting by forces that comprise some historical epoch.
Here we must underline the inner or intrinsic character of this causal relation.
Ontological mood is not an experience, as one might be tempted to define it, but the state of man’s intimate being that is caused by something that acts from the inside on the inside, i.e. directly, without anything mediating it. The experience, on the other hand, is always an imprint of something that is outside and extrinsic to its subject, indeed it is defined – and confined – by the subject/object relation which requires separation and, consequently, material individuality.
In this sense it is very misleading to talk about “inner experiences” because, although one could very well have in mind the right thing, he is most certainly using the wrong words to express it.
The implications are serious. First of all, ontological mood – be it anxiety, nostalgia or premonition of catastrophe that cannot be averted (something that was very prevalent in sensible souls dwelling in late-communist countries and christened for street use in Eighties Yugoslavia as weltschmertz) – cannot be evaded for the simple reason it springs from the inner source; the intrinsic acts, although varied and presumably enacted by intrinsic agents, are really not separated in the sense the extrinsic – that is: corporeal – are; if there’s something touching you from the inside, you will not be able to evade it by shutting yourself off from it, because any such evasive act would be one of extrinsic action.
For example, everyone is aware how, when some bad thought crosses the mind, we tend to rub it off by some outward action, sometimes even by the gesture of rubbing an invisible object away with a wave of the hand. The reason for this is that we are not really having a fully articulated thought, but mental image which is based on material causes and is not properly intrinsic but, although acting out in our imagination, it is not intimately united with our mind/heart.
The emotional states, like peculiar ontological nostalgia we are dealing with here, are united to its subject and cannot be waved off or ejected by an outward action; some of those states can be horrifying, as we already wrote about in detail elsewhere, precisely because there’s no way to shake them off if they’re unwanted – they just emerge and overwhelm the inner life of a person from within and what is “within” can never be fully “outside”, i.e. it cannot be “thrown out of your system”.
The essential determinant of nostalgia is the realization of both finality and reality of the past; it is the longing for something absent, accompanied by full realization that this something cannot be made present, i.e. taken possession of.
In this sense the whole dimension of Being is being disclosed for discerning mind, because the tendency of postmodernity is to obfuscate the distinctions of temporality of Being, turning everything into a kind of perpetual present, starting all over again with every passing moment.
In reality, however, past is bearing witness to eternity, one might say.
The sense of it disclosed initially in the ontological mood of nostalgia is through and through one of reality; for one who’s heart is overwhelmed by it there is no doubting the fact that what was indeed still is; more so than what appears to be present in fact. The memories, all down to early childhood, can move perpetually before the mind’s eye as if on the movie screen, completely real, with all emotional coloring they had when they happened; nothing is lost, nothing is not.
This is the temporal dimension of Being denied every day at every occasion by what we call “life” and “the world”. Some people reacting to it become conservatives, misguidedly projecting the clash onto extrinsic sphere of life where, we’re supposed to believe, “values” and institutions have to be defended from the onslaught of nihilism. However, the real struggle is inside and the real price is far deeper than mere products of human moral and political ingenuity.
In the past, some people used to die from this insight.
Some talented representatives of the whole generation of late-communist era East Europeans had been pervaded with what some dubbed weltschmertz, a mood best summed up by late Serbian actress Sonja Savić, in paraphrase: “We were just looking for people who were as alone as we were. And all we wanted was to say our word and then to quietly check out”.
Which they promptly did.
This was the mood of premonition of catastrophe and of the advent of erasure of the past; in ex-Yugoslavia it was accompanied by war which, for all its extrinsic causes, had inner ones, too, and a generation of sensible and talented young people gave some intense expressions of their effect – a sinking of their world into nothingness and the cutting off of the past from the present and future.
Of course, ontological moods are not something that can be adequately depicted in conceptual framework, but only in expressions, most notably artistic ones, which makes them highly deficient as a path towards understanding and solution of the problem; one of the clear signs of late modernity was precisely the attempt to rely on these means as proper dispositions to meet metaphysical problems head on, coupled with rampant anti-intellectualism.
It is comical, however, that this is precisely the trajectory of the dissolution of modernity we’re currently living out, because anti-intellectualism was just another name for anti-modernity, no matter whether we are dealing with conservative revolutionaries or New Left standard bearers of the Sixties; the intellect as the higher faculty of human soul, able to be enlightened and to partly assimilate the modes of Being that transcend it has little or nothing to do with this “intellectualism”, save name.
But for modern man it was always about names and labels, anyway.
So, if we are to make proper use of our nostalgia, we have to put it in its place and in its proper confines.
It is the ontological mood that gives fuel to intellect, goading one to think out the causes of it and, consequently, forcing one to question the nature of his relation to the world; the key to its power is that there’s no need to be persuaded – inner state is provoked by inner activity and there’s no possibility of doubting its existence, therefore there’s no possibility of doubting the existence of the problem.
This is by no means a small feat, because on the level of words, i.e. everyday language and its entirely horizontal refinements in the terminology of social sciences and political commentary, these things can be obfuscated out of existence for our intellect; once the absent reality of the past is shrugged off from the surface of the every day language use, as something that has no effect on our present reality, we are unable to connect to it and this means that we’re progressively being detached from our origin.
Being cannot be thought of in discrepancies, but only in unity, and if the temporal vectors of past, present and future are not discerned as unified in It, then we’re on the way out of it; and stepping out of Being is a step into non-Being.
These simple logical operations, when performed on the basis of actual content imbibing the terms used, are true activities of intellect and any anti-intellectualism that tries to denounce them is just the act of scorpion of modernity applying its own stinger on itself; something that essentially is of no consequence for intellect and metaphysics in the proper sense of these words.
Although we are pointing out the Eastern European perspective about this epochal event, which came to pass and is still unfolding almost completely in silence and out of focus of masses of humanity, it is by no means confined to this part of the world.
Eastern Europe has only been given a bit of a pause in relation to it and, partly because of this peculiar state of affairs, it was possible for some individuals to at least recognize and in a more or less adequate, mostly artistic, expression point out that something extraordinary and terrible went down.
This is not to say that bulk of the people got the message. Far from it. Yet clues are being scattered all around, difficult to decipher even to insiders of this peculiar and hard to define part of Europe, but, for those who are willing to try their hand at solving the riddle of postmodernity, they are here.
There’s no academic research, no attempt to connect the pieces of the puzzle. And no wonder! For how peculiar and seemingly unrelated and obscure those pieces are.
Who in his right mind would go pondering about Zagreb’s and Beograd’s underground rock scene of the early Eighties and collate the mostly tragic – and socially completely marginal – destinies of its participants with the demise of their ill fated country and the place of this event in the broader circumstances of the dissolution of modernity? Or attempt to do the same for their Russian counterparts?
Yet the disclosure that spelled death for those people, notwithstanding the outer circumstances of disease, suicide or drugs, was one simple, incurable, insight:
namely, that everything is a lie.
And this is the negative essence of postmodernity in all its glory.
It was suffered and partially expressed for what it was by handful of hearts beating in darkness and it awoke the appetite for destruction in less subtle bowels of the masses whose noisy deeds provided the decoy and the cover; a screen for academics and opinion makers to paint their comic book depictions of what they thought they saw.
As is probably natural, the truth was first anticipated on the margins and then, slowly, decades afterward, it slowly finds first attempts at articulation on even greater margin; this is quite appropriate, because lie lies, i.e. it is not a passive but active force of dissolution, therefore it does not suffer its opposite.
The East Europe in this sense could once again be a proving ground, but this time not for doomed social experiments, but for understanding of postmodernity and mounting of resistance to its destructive drive; this is the part of Europe where actual demolition began, could it not be the one where it will end and, however inconceivably, the rebuilding will commence?
Let us not forget that some of us can still remember people who’s hearts were innocent enough to be broken by the lie. Could it not be, then, that here there are still hearts that can be healed by the truth?
However that may or may not play out, one path is still open, no matter how masterfully illusion coiled itself around it. The past is not dead and the illusion that everything is a lie is possible only on condition that this impossibility is made real.
The past is a temporal expression of modality of necessity so if it is, then everything else cannot not be. The illusion that Being can somehow be eradicated by dissolution of social forms is a trick played on people after the end of the Cold War and, although in reaching its apogee it did reap the harvest of victims, its time is more or less spent.
There comes a point when lie becomes so obnoxious and so perfect that it starts annihilating itself, simply by ceasing to hide behind the truth.
This point seems to be infinitely delayed in postmodernity, i.e. although it is in the nature of lie to expose itself in the end – annihilating the reality behind which it hides – this moment is postponed into indefinite and infinite future; it is that “not yet” vector characteristic of postmodernity, where everything is on the brink but just one step shy of crossing it.
One solution to this virtual crisis – virtual because it is an artificial construct – would be to end the delay and let the lie be itself, dissolving by the very act of its total exposure into nothing.
This would be a very dangerous attempt, already appropriated by such lucid but dangerous people like Alexander Dugin, but inevitable. However, while someone like Dugin would like to destroy the modern world in the apocalyptic event, the truth of the matter is that there really should be nothing to be destroyed.
Exposing of the lie in its extremity would be a realization that the whole construct of postmodernity is a sham and that it can be ignored out of existence. No matter how difficult it might be to imagine it from the present vantage point, the end of the dissolution could just be a burst of laughter over collective human stupidity, rather then the world war or some such cataclysm people like Dugin like to invoke.
It would be such an appropriate result for our uncivilized, marginally European sentiments: to do nothing and then, when everything comes down, just say: “didn’t I tell ya’?”.
Be that as it may, let us revel in nostalgia with no regret.
In our times, this is not an act of sentimental self indulgence but a revolutionary act.
An act of taking possession of oneself and one’s place in the world, contrary to the trajectory of the times.
And, to conclude on appropriate note, let us ponder about this fact: nowadays you start a revolution with what poets of not so recent past considered to be a mood of emotional self indulgence.
Obviously then that, if nothing else, this time around revolutionary cry could be the insightful question old Dalmatian women posed to first joggers when they appeared in their customarily troubled, yet laid back, region: “why run when no one’s chasing you?”
Perhaps it would be more profitable, and infinitely less toilsome, to look back and commence the slow, subtle, process of redeeming our time and learning, as we go, of the infinite power of forgiveness.
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