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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nostalgia: A Portal to the Past

Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental longing involving memories from the past, as in "the good old days."  Nostalgia is often bittersweet because, even though there might be an immersion into happy memories, there is also a sadness that the people, places or things related to the past are no longer in the present.

Nostalgia: A Portal to the Past

Nostalgia As a Portal to the Past
Nostalgia is a portal to the past--an actual past or, at times, an imaginary past.  Since memory can be inaccurate, nostalgia is often an idealized representation of the past, and it tends to be colored by what's happening in the present.

For instance, if someone is currently single, lonely and longing to be in a relationship, she might look back with fond memories to a time when she was in a romantic relationship.  She might idealize this past relationship and look back on it wistfully as being a completely happy time when, in fact, there might have been serious problems in that relationship.  In order to preserve this ideal, she might forget, without even realizing it, that there were times when she was very unhappy in that relationship.

This idealization often serves the purpose of having the internal experience of a happier time, a time when that can be relived in memory as a person now perceives the past.  So, there can be a psychological compensatory effect to nostalgia.

Book: In Search of Lost Time - By Marcel Proust
There are many ways in which people are transported back into the past, and literature offers many examples of this.

One of the most famous examples in literature is in In Search of Lost Time by the French novelist, Marcel Proust.

In Volume One, Swanns Way, the narrator, Marcel, has a memory of going to bed early as a boy and waiting for his mother's good night kiss.

Later on in the novel, Marcel's early memories are suddenly prompted when he tastes a madeleine cookie that he dips in tea.  Memories of his childhood experiences at his Aunt Leonie's home in Combray (now known as Illier-Combray, France) and other memories of earlier times come back to him in a nostalgic experience of involuntary memory.

During a trip to Paris a couple of years ago, I went to visit the Proust Museum, which is Proust's aunt's home in Illier-Combray as he described it in Swanns Way.  Having read his novel, I was quite moved to see the house preserved as the narrator described it in Swanns Way.  Just being able to walk through the rooms and remember various scenes from the book made the story come alive.

Film: Time Regained by Raul Ruiz: Nostalgia as a Psychologically Integrative Experience
Nostalgia can also be evoked by looking at old pictures.

In the beautiful movie, Time Regained, the Chilean filmmaker, Raul Ruiz, adapts the last book of Proust's seven-volume novel starting with a scene of Marcel Proust on his sick bed close to death.

Early on in the film, Marcel asks his housekeeper, Celeste, to bring him pictures that are in a drawer.  As he looks at these old pictures of his friends, family members and romantic partners, he is transported back in his memory to earlier times from childhood to adulthood.  He becomes immersed in these memories as he is slipping away into death.

As Marcel relives these times of joy and sadness, he is having a psychologically integrative experience of his past and present, which is beautifully rendered in the film.

Similar to the process of Life Review for older adults, the experience of nostalgia, especially as it is rendered in the film, Time Regained, highlights another positive aspect of nostalgia, which is a psychologically integrative experience where the past and present come together to add depth and meaning to a life lived.

I recently began rereading In Search of Lost Time and, in rereading it, I'm reminded that when we return to a masterpiece like this, our own life experience affects how we experience a novel when we revisit it more than 20 years later.

I also saw the film, Time Regained, again recently--the first time that I've seen it in almost 20 years.  This was another reminder of how time and memory can affect an experience.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.