Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Nocturnal Thoughts on Nostalgia
This term husband is giving his students a lecture on "Nostalgia" (come to think of it: it is a seminar, and the students are very young). So at home we discuss the phenomenon and I learn that the philosopher Arnold Gehlen said: "Only the acquisition, not the possessing is pleasure-oriented." (I disagree). Gehlen also speaks of boredom, tedium, inebriation, of consumer's happiness and the happiness of adventure, of Freud, Schopenhauer and Marcuse. He says that in the present exists no possibility of happiness. (I protest) He says that's why, to be happy, people develope images of happiness in the future - an utopia. But when this Utopia is realised - asks Gehlen - what shall we do then to escape boredom? "But when the phantasy of happiness radiates backwards, then we finally reach nostalgia."
Aha. I cannot find out if Gehlen thinks that nostalgia is a good thing, or if he is only describing different ways to (in his belief non-existent) happiness.
I have been quite a while on this beautiful planet, but I am not old enough for nostalgia and hope I will never be - so boring, dreaming only of past times glory. Don't get me wrong: I love history - personal and mankind's history - what I do not like is that sour "Formerly everything was better" (I can remember very well that it seldom was).
I think there are two kinds of nostalgia: I know a lot of people advancing in age who see their life as a series of losses - though they have had a very good life. Of cause they are right: everything has an end one day. A wonderful lover leaves, a dear friend goes away, a sister behaves very strangely - that's awful. But they only look back, and dream, and complain, and don't see what is now good, because in their eyes everything is getting downhill.
Then there is nostalgia when people are grateful for what they have been given at their time being, but accept (teeth-gnashingly) that nothing is forever, and are glad about that encounter or experience - this form of nostalgia leaves you energy to concentrate on what's still good around you. I refuse to cry (too long) about the cookie I've eaten. It was delicious - so what?
I think Mr. Gehlen needs not to struggle with utopia - the present is the only way to happiness I can imagine.
Though of course I am a long way from the Famous Wise One who hangs on a cliff - a tiger above him, a panther beneath him in the canyon - he sees that delicious strawberry growing on that rock he is hanging on with one hand - and, being a Taoist, he picks it and enjoy it with all his senses.