A history of nostalgia: what could this history be but a chimerical one, given that nostalgia seems to denote an inauthentic longing and vague remembrance that would be hostile to the specificities of historical recollection? To reclaim nostalgia as not only a mode of memory but also a mode of history would mean considering it as a strategy—as a response to social conditions and, in fact, as a form of therapy: a winnowing of the specificity, emotional disturbance, and unpredictability of reminiscence into a diluted, comfortable, and serviceable retrospect. By understanding nostalgia strategically, or procedurally—what it does, and how it does it—history and nostalgia might again merge; where they meet is in a series of crucial shifts in the psychosocial effects of mobility in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They meet at a moment when a pathological relation to physical and psychic dislocation becomes depathologized, when, in other words, a specific form of traumatic memory is erased in favor of a curative memory that will curiously bear the identical name. The traces of this transformation can be read, and the procedure studied, not only in a set of historical instances but also in narratives that bear its imprint: Jane Austen’s fiction.
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- English and Comparative Literature
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- August 7, 2013
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