Britta's Letters from her life divided between city-life in German's capital Berlin and life in a Bavarian village

Sunday 12 May 2013

Nocturnal Thoughts on Nostalgia

Britta Huegel

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.


  1. Britta, this post makes me think of the novel I just finished reading, Replay. It is about a 43-year-old man who dies of a heart attack and wakes up 18, over and over. He is replaying his life with vastly divergent consequences and scenarios each time. Nostalgia, naturally, is a weighted theme in the story. As is regret and living for and in the moment.

    1. Dear Suze,
      thank you, I gave your tip to Hans (though I discovered at Amazon that the title is very popular and thus there is more than one author who used it.

  2. Very interesting and thought provoking post.
    Embracing change and accepting loss of any kind requires a certain degree of bravery and sometimes people find it easier to live in the past. At least that's the way I see it! x

    1. dear Penny,
      I agree - there is bravery needed - but the energy one spends in locking some insights in the dark corner of the heart consumes so much power - better to accept and be (relatively) free.

  3. Britta.... Indeed a lot to ponder here. Nostalgia to me is not a bad thing, but to be recognized for what it is... our past. While our history brings us to where we are today, it is a personal choice to wallow in it or move forward to what we can become. Each day is new ... It's outcome determined by our personal attitude and choices. I am thankful for today and embrace the opportunities of tomorrow! Thanks for your insightful post! Hope you have a pleasant week. Susan

    1. Dear Susan,
      thank you - I like your attitude!
      And for your silent inanimity - because here comes a big excuse: I simply forgot to put you on my bloglist - thus I didn't see a new post - and did not comment. (I am always a bit vexed not to find my blog on bloglists with titles like "The 1001 best blogs I follow" - though there are some written last time in 1968 - but now I learned: it might be simple forgetfulness, not judgement :-)

    2. worries from here. I know just enough about this blogging business to be dangerous! I am still trying to figure out how to do the side column pictures and add my blog list! I absolutely love reading blogs from the four corners of the world. I am just happy to have found you! Forgetfulness is now my middle name....I can always excuse myself with age. Smiles across the miles! s~

    3. Dear Susan,
      I am also still checking out some secrets of blogspot (or Google+). The contact to many different countries is fascinating (that's why I write in English and not in German).

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