Nostalgia and the Mnemonics of Time
I relate the memory phenomenon to the shift in late twentieth-century conceptions of historical time from an accent on progress looking toward the future to one on nostalgia for the lost promise of the past. I review the newfound scholarly interest in nostalgia in both modern and postmodern conceptions of its nature. Such scholarship highlights the ambiguity of nostalgia: it elicits bittersweet emotions not only for what was, but also for what might have been. In the latter guise, nostalgia is reconceived as a resource for renewal. I close with the suggestion that the current scholarly fascination with Walter Benjamin’s visionary conception of history is derived from his conception of nostalgia as messianic hope for lost causes and failed projects worthy of revival.