Nostalgia—A Polemic

Essay Excerpt

This article attempts to objectify a cultural polemic between forms of nostalgia in the culture of "late capitalism" (Mandel 1978) or "the end of organized capitalism"(Lash and Urry 1987). Hegemonic and resistant nostalgias,"middle- class" and "working-class" nostalgias, the nostalgia of a "mass culture" and the nostalgia of and for local, nameable places are a three-ring circus of simultaneous images in the arenas of life-style, spectacle, and loss. The angst-ridden modern city is replaced by the delirious surround of consumer capitalism (Jameson 1983). Nostalgia, like the economy it runs with, is everywhere. But it is a cultural practice, not a given content; its forms, meanings, and effects shift with the context-it depends on where the speaker stands in the landscape of the present. (Stewart, 227)

About the Author

Dr. Kathleen Stewart is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. 

"I write and teach on affect, the ordinary, worlding, the senses, and modes of ethnographic engagement driven by curiosity and attachment. My work is an experiment that writes from the intensities in things. It asks what potential modes of knowing, relating or attending to things are already being lived in ordinary rhythms, labors, and the sensory materiality of forms of attunement to worlds.

My first book, A Space on the Side of the Road: Cultural Poetics in an "Other" America(Princeton University Press, 1996), portrays a dense and textured layering of sense and form laid down in social use. Ordinary Affects (Duke University Press, 2007) traces the force of encounters, desires, bodliy states, dream worlds, and modes of attention and distraction in the composition and suffering of a present.

My current project, Atmospheric Attunements, presents a collective sensing out lived in the mode of potentiality. A sensorium attuned to atmospherics grapples not only with things or power, but with the world--a worlding."

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