March 12, 2014
Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel is a comedy about the tragedy of nostalgia, but nostalgia can also be a resurrecting force.
One interesting thing about nostalgia, at least in my experience, is that we're so often longing for something that never existed in the first place. I hear a lot of people longing for the simpler times of the 1950s, the leave-it-to-beaver situation when no one went hungry and you didn't have broken homes and everyone just seemed to get along. But I rather expect if you asked (say) women with aspirations to be more than just housewives, or non-whites, what life was like in those days, you'd get a much-different picture. I know that in my own experience, when I compare my own remembrances of my childhood in the 1980s to what older relatives experienced, our perceptions were completely different - because they had worries I didn't have. For me, it was all "Full House" and leaf forts.
This makes me wonder about nostalgia for the kind of life we think humans lived before the Fall. When I deal with hard stuff in life, even normal hard stuff like having enough money to live comfortably or there not being enough time in the day to meet all my obligations, I think I'd really like some of those worries not to be my responsibility. And I do long for that. But I also suspect that the thing I long for wouldn't actually be all that good for me. I don't want to have to worry, I want the intimacy, but do I really want to go back to lacking the wisdom, the challenges to be met? Would I really be happy in a life like the one we see in Genesis 2? Probably not. And that's interesting because I do want it, I think we all do. And I think the fact that nostalgia often gives us a warped view of how things really were, or at least how they'd feel to us today, is a part of that.
So yeah. I think nostalgia is good because it makes us dream of how things could be and what we want. But there's definitely a limit here to how much we can trust it, at least in my experience.
Certainly we should regard some nostalgia with suspicion, Marta, especially when filmmakers exploit it to manipulate audiences (not that this is what Anderson is doing in Grand Budapest). I'm curious about your reference to Genesis 2, however. I think a longing for that experience - maybe not the literal fig leaf one but the spiritual one of being in right relationship with God - is exactly the sort of nostalgia C.S. Lewis is talking about. I trust my longing for that.
Nostalgia is an intriguing concept indeed.
A few days ago for my 18th birthday I got the chance to smoke cigars and talk with a group of older men from my church. Elders, worship leaders, ministers, and during the time, I noticed something striking.
Most of their life, had already happened. It seemed that their whole way of thinking about time, and their lives in general had changed. Instead of looking forward for happiness and success, they were... almost looking back.
And this kind of weirded me out. I thought you were always supposed to be looking forward in life. And then I read your post and it made me realize something.
As Christians, we are looking back, to look forward.
Like you say, we are looking back to a time thousands of years ago to see what the future is like. We look at the garden to learn about heaven, we read revelation, a section in a thousand year old book, to see what the next thousand years will be like, we read what Jesus said 2000 years ago to learn how to live tomorrow. We look forward to look back.
So now I understand. These men who I smoked cigars with, they weren't looking back because they had no hope for the future, they were looking back because they saw the future in the past.
And as Christians, we do too.
Thanks for sharing Nick. Your thoughts made me realize: when I read the Bible, my mind habitually goes into future mode, projecting what even the oldest stories mean for what's ahead. I never really stopped to think about why before, but you've pinpointed it.
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