Nostalgia and Historicity

The first task before me—or rather, the first productive task before me (I’ve already done readings, which, in opposition to “productive” tasks might be labeled as “consumptive”)—is to start a blog for my trip, and to write my first post, a pre-departure entry. 

Now, I was planning on doing something like this already, but since I am being marked and these entries will be treated as assignments, I have some motivation to actually be consistent, and further, to think critically about my journeys and experiences as I—well, experience them.

In one of the first readings we did for class, the author claims that our experiences are interpretations of that which we experience, and that those interpretations are, in themselves, in need of interpretation.1 We humans approach the world—and, for myself, and the other field school students, the “field”—from our own particular “habitus”,2 and thus, whatever we experience is “partial”3: we see what we set out to see, and even then, what we see we see only in glimpses. And so, this task of recording and interpreting is a fraught one. 

The goal of such a journal or travel log, as is the goal with all such personal records, is to mark down significant events and occurrences, and then to reflect upon them (read: significant means, is significant to ME, and reflection is how such significant events are significant to ME; thus, the record, especially this type, is inherently partial, or better, subjective, as it is inescapably, inextricably linked to my partial, subjective experience.) But, as one scholar theorizes,4 any such record or history is an act of narrativization, thematization, idealization, and nostalgia. In reflecting and interpreting our experiences, our own personal histories, we impose a pattern upon the chaos of lived existence that does not exist in the present. Even memory, the present recollection of past experience, is not so coherent as we would like. Our subjectivities are always chaotic and disordered. We take in more data with our senses and intuition than we can ever consciously process. Only through the narratives that we construct can we bring order to the jumble of experiences that we call our “selves.”

Let me elaborate.5 Looking into the future, my trip to France will consist of four major beats: departure, three weeks in Tours, five weeks in Paris, return. Let these four events be the string of characters “a b c d.” Now, to tell my story (especially in retrospect), to make sense of these discrete events or periods of time, the standard model of history will take one of these events and emphasize it. So I could tell the story “A b c d” and emphasize the departure, using that event to demarcate my suburban, limited life from my new, worldly, cultured one. Or I could emphasize the time in Paris (“a b C d”) and talk about how that great and glorious city left an indelible mark upon my life. I could emphasize any of the four, place them in any order, add or remove events significant or otherwise, and in so doing, construct a narrative of myself in transit, trace a lineage from my “I”—my self—pre-departure, to my “I” post-return. This is the act of nostalgia, of history, and of narrative, the drawing together of a subjective continuity across space and time. 

Viewed in this light, a whole mess of metaphysical questions emerge, concerned with issues of selfhood and existence, and, because this is a travel log and not first year philosophy, I won’t try to deal with them now. So this is it: the blog, the log, my interpretation of an interpretation, my digitized record of my analog self. Enjoy.


  1. Hyndman, Jennifer. “The Field as Here and Now, Not There and Then.” Geographical Review 91.1-2 (2001): 262-272. PDF. 

  2. Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800—1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. PDF. 

  3. Hyndman, Jennifer. 

  4. White, Hayden. “The Historical Text As Literary Artifact.” Critical Theory. Ed. Robert Dale Parker. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 477-493. Print. 

  5. Here, I employ Hayden White’s model from “The Historical Text As Literary Artifact.” 

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