On Thursday, April 7th, I am giving a talk in Professor Elizabeth Lewis’s class “Expressive Culture.” The theme of my talk is “ISIS: Reenactment of Ruins and Atrocity in State Formation.” Students are reading the first chapter from Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish” for the discussion.

Affect: Nostalgia and Loss

Nostalgia is always connected with a sense of loss (Stewart, 1988). An acute feeling of having lost something might not be rational, it does not depend on the consideration that the loss was imaginative, or if the object sensed as lost did not exist in the first place, or if this loss has affected the future in a positive way. The contemplating of ruins easily begets nostalgia and the feeling of loss.

The concept of imaginative loss explains why it is possible to probe the waters of nostalgia being in a place you have never visited before. The question whether one would experience a surge of nostalgia is the question of having a particular swarms of associations evoked. Nostalgia verges on the border of déjà vu, slipping into recognition: what has happened, would not be happening any more, regardless of how often it had been happening before.

Ruination is the byproduct result of loss, the fixed material consequences of loss. Attempting to reconstruct, what it was that was lost, that was being lost right now, all sorts of arbitrariness take place. A sense that history might have go in other direction is vivid. The functionality of ruination is such that ruination has the ability to produce the image of the past in our consciousness. This image is very appealing, full of allure, and has very little to do with the actual past. It is the invocation of the past, reflected upon the future.

“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, 1988).

This landscape of the present is not given also, but it is fluctuant and fluid, glitters vaguely; and the subjectivity experiencing nostalgia is shifting in the depth of it, now directed at the object, now at itself, but mostly reflecting itself and preoccupied with itself, and the object, or perhaps surroundings, the agglomeration of objects, the untold and not easily detectable but delectable characteristic of which triggers the avalanche of falsified memories, the atmosphere, the luminosity, the texture, the shadow, the trembling, the rapture and the twitch.

Nostalgia is a feeling that one is likely to have as a side effect of relocation. In case when ubiquitous ruins denote the bygone that was there, the relocation is happening without the change of locus, with all the force of emotion composing the feeling of being lost, the pressing necessity of re-finding oneself in the changed conditions of life; the despair, the regret, and the hope. Thus ruins reframe the ordinariness, making it possible for everyday life to hide the huge caverns of nostalgia where you can slip any time. Any day turns out to be charged with nostalgia for the moment that has just past. Nothing is stable, the certitude of the world is profoundly undermined.