Where is it that nostalgia comes from? As a student of history, one of the most interesting aspects of history to me is the way that different people view it in such different ways. What for some people is a horror that must be forgotten and obliterated from existence is to someone else a lost golden age that ought to be restored. Even when we have a more sober and nuanced view about a past place and time, we may struggle to know it well enough to figure out how we think and feel about it. We may ponder to ourselves that we might be okay with living in a particular period of time and location as an elite but would definitely not want to be a common person. Alternatively, we might think that even the life of an elite would offer some major problems and complications that we do not have in our present existence and reject it altogether.
There is a song I happen to enjoy greatly from the mid-1990’s that has been nearly entirely forgotten, a part of the soundtrack pop genre I am far more fond of than most people, called “Where Do We Go From Here?” The song was performed by Vanessa Williams, who not only sang this film theme song from the film “Eraser” (which is hinted at in the lyrics to the song itself) but was also an actress in the film as well. Neither the film nor the song were huge hits, but my local radio station played the song a fair bit, I bought the single to the song and played it at home some, and thus the song remained in my memory even if it did not remain in the memory of the general public. The thing is, I remember the song differently than it actually sounds when I play it. For whatever reason, in my head, the production of the sound is less jarring and artificial than it sounds when I listen to it on streaming, and so it seems as if my memory of the song is better than the actual reality of the song, meaning that some aspect of nostalgia seems to be at play, where in my head the good parts of the song remain, such as Williams’ warm singing and the sentiment of the lyrics, while the less praiseworthy aspects of the song, its instrumental production, is softened to match the lyrics better. I wonder if this is not a common experience for people.
What are the reasons why we remember certain parts of the past. It appears that both nostalgia and negative nostalgia have at their cause some sort of focus on elements of the past that are so powerfully resonant that they survive when most of the past fades into oblivion. That which is ordinary or of its time passes when that time is gone, but there are timeless aspects of both good and bad that remain, and whether our nostalgic view is positive or negative depends on those aspects which stand the test of time for better or for worse. What will stand the test of time in our lives? I suppose we shall see.