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.