Yesterday’s Nostalgia, Tomorrow’s Word of the Year?

January 4, 2008

I spent part of last week composing a retrospective for the first full year of YS in my mind, but I could never find the right lede, nor think of what posts I’d want to include, and before I knew it, it was 2008 and I’d missed my chance at both sending off my “malprorpiate valedictions” (the intended title) and having dinner with Chris Dodd. The problem might be that even if my brain is now a computer (as the furious romantic tells me), it doesn’t get internet, and I couldn’t remember all the posts that we’ve published over the year. Also, I was feeling nostalgic, and I’m still confused about whether or not nostalgia is still a good thing in this post-Garcia-Marquez world.

Apparently, I’m not the only one rejecting nostalgia. Treehugger reports on the growing phenomenon of “solastalgia.” Coined a couple of years ago by Glenn Albrech, “solastalgia” is “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home.” Specifically, it is:

“.. the distress caused by the lived experience of the transformation of one’s home and sense of belonging and is experienced through the feeling of desolation about its change.” (link)

The term was created as a result of climate change, and has been gaining currency as the actuality of climate change has gained recognition. But even if the term is new, there’s certainly nothing new in the concept. Environmental and urban change has always been a topic of literature where it has been handled in any number of perspectives. Blakes, “And did those feet” concerns a type of solastalgia. The implied narrator wonders how Jerusalem could have been built “among these dark satanic mills” and yearns for a messianic return to the British pastoral, “England’s green and pleasant land.” One could even read it into Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio,” one of the great imaginary places in American literature. In particular, its early chapters, with their religious overtones, could bear such a reading.

“Solastalgia” could probably been seen as the guiding concept of season 2 of The Wire. That season (perhaps the least appreciated) concerned the decline of the American working class, and the struggle over gentrification. There’s a scene where one of the dock workers looks into buying a home only to be blown away at the cost of buying in his increasingly gentrifying neighborhood. His urban life was passing away before his eyes.

I’m not saying we should immediately rush out and start using “solastalgia” in our term papers, though it would hardly be the first environmental term to catch on as a literary term; after all, Derrida structured one of his most entertaining pieces around the word/concept “biodegradable.” Somehow “solastalgia” seems too clumsy to really succeed, but if it does, it may just be 2008’s word of the year.

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4 Responses to “Yesterday’s Nostalgia, Tomorrow’s Word of the Year?”

  1. nygiantstalk Says:

    go to http://www.nygiantstalk.wordpress.com for a great new upcoming site!


  2. Hi all,

    Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’. Solace is derived from solari and solacium, with meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solus and desolare with meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness (isolation).

    There are few words in English that closely connect psychological and environmental states. One such word is, ‘desolation’ and its meanings refer both to a personal feeling of abandonment (isolation) and to a landscape that has been devastated. The word ‘solace’ also relates to both psychological and physical contexts. One meaning refers to the comfort one is given in difficult times (consolation) while another refers that which gives comfort or strength to a person. A person or a landscape might give solace, strength or support to other people. Special environments might provide solace in ways that other places cannot.

    If a person lacks solace then they are distressed without the possibility of consolation. If a person seeks solace or solitude in a much loved place that is being desolated, then they will also suffer distress. In both contexts there is anguish or pain and the ‘algia’ (pain) in nostalgia is equally applicable to the pain in this context

    In addition, the concept has been constructed such that it has a ghost reference or structural similarity to nostalgia so that a place reference is imbedded. Hence, literally, solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory. It is the ‘lived experience’ of negative environmental change and the homesickness you have when you are still at home.

    I do not claim that solastalgia is new … only that it is newly defined in English (possibly present in many other languages).) The last lines of my PAN article read:

    “he full transdisciplinary idea of health involves the healing of solastalgia via cultural responses to degradation of the environment in the form of drama, art, dance and song at all scales of living from the bioregional to the global. The potential to restore unity in life and achieve genuine sustainability is a scientific, ethical, cultural and practical response to this ancient, ubiquitous but newly defined human illness. ”

    My regards to all,

    Glenn.


  3. […] to the destined-to-be-awful Land of the Lost.  However, a few gems have been mined from this nostalgic dross, particularly when writers have adopted a truly adult (in the mature sense) perspective on […]


  4. […] the environment you call home changes unrecognisably for reasons beyond your immediate control. Solastalgia can lead to distress, but I believe that this distress is felt by people who care. I am not […]


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