This is the first edition of The Future of, an editorial project that seeks to reimagine, reclaim, and remap future potentialities of ideas that are shaping contemporary society. The aim of each edition is to deconstruct, recontextualise, and critically tackle notions that can be recuperated as valuable tools in developing a toolkit for a more livable, more just future. The first such idea that we seek to decipher is the convoluted concept of nostalgia. And this is because nostalgia may not be what it seems at first glance. Modern society has cast thick clouds of doubt over nostalgia’s properties. We have been taught that nostalgia is negatively charged, that it can never be trusted due to the toxic baggage it invariably carries around. Nostalgia has its own ghosts that overshadow and obscure any possible elaborate understandings of the term and the way it manifests itself socially, culturally, politically. Stuck between lyrical wistfulness and melancholic mourning, nostalgia has been romanticised, mystified, and nullified. It is an insult of endearment at best, a sign of primitivism, a malady of sorts that is innately conservative or simply stranded in the past.
Despite the penumbra of vast associations that are difficult to shake off, nostalgia is more than sentimental kitsch. The rosy glow that nostalgia usually stirs up does not paint a complete picture. It may be that thinking about nostalgia—or simply being nostalgic—does not make one a prisoner of history, but a self-reflective being aware of the complexities of the past and the possibilities of the future. Therefore, in scrutinising the concept, we seek to locate in nostalgia some progressive potential and reclaim it from the reactionary energies that confiscated it in the first place. Under these circumstances, the present publication cannot help but ask: Is there more to this apparently antiquated idea? Can nostalgia be rescued from the tangled webs of memory, tradition, and backwardness and be repurposed as a valuable conceptual tool of moving forward? How can we expand the field of possibilities when it comes to the future of nostalgia? While binary thinking is cast off (whether nostalgia is good or bad is less important), nuanced investigations are embraced; and this first edition of The Future of seeks to duly provide such conceptual reconfigurations.
The persistent return to the late Russian theorist Svetlana Boym, which happens in every other article of this edition, is not accidental: this act of returning to her work is not only referential but actually reverential, as this project can be read as a form of commemorating Boym’s close examination of the can of worms that nostalgia inhabits. Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia, which in 2021 turns twenty years old since it was first published, bestows itself as a conceptual mould on which the present editorial project is constructed. Infusing it with a modular configuration and dissecting new concepts with each edition, we are suggesting that the lost potential of our surroundings can be reclaimed. We needn’t capitulate just yet; we need to start looking for new frames of critique.
When embraced in its complexity, nostalgia is re-conceptualised as a dynamic and interactive phenomenon, in which various contingent imaginaries co-exist: an individual mechanism of survival, a collective instrument of coming together, a countercultural practice, or concomitantly a poison, social disease, creative emotion, and cure. We, as the children of post-communism born into the ruins of capitalism, have the necessary repertoire to provide what Bulgarian historian Maria Todorova calls “an activist critique of the present, using the past as a mirror.” With this understanding of nostalgia as the backbone of our investigation, the concept of nostalgia we develop tries to move beyond idealising past times and lost spaces, and puts forward an act of resistance against the very present in which we are living. Our nostalgia is a reaction to the ruins of the here and now, and is built upon a critical utopianism through which better futures are imagined.
The ruins of the present invariably lead to a critique of the past: not just of history itself, but of the way a progressive, teleological, linear, one-dimensional sense of it is naturalised and embraced as common sense. Walter Benjamin summed this up in his well-known description of Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus,” or “The Angel of History,” whose face is turned toward the past:
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Maybe this editorial letter should end on this note, with the vigour of Benjamin’s emblematic poetics still ringing loud and clear in our ears. Just as for Benjamin the present involves a superimposition of the past and the future—a future that we dream of, but which cannot be realised—so is the nostalgia tackled in this first edition of The Future of a dream-like attempt to visualise, approach, and critique (post-)modernity. Benjamin’s uncanny look at the past not only shapes our intent, but also functions as an actualised method: Our faces are not only turned backward, to the past, but also inward, into ourselves. Our nostalgia is therefore self-aware and self-reflective, perhaps equally ironic and sometimes absurd, aware of its own complexity and incongruity: Our nostalgia is a doomed speculative tool that anticipates futures that never come. Our nostalgia is not our vulnerability, but our salvation and our antidote to a hyper-accelerated modernity. Our nostalgia is a nostalgia for the future: a radically new vision through which our relationship with time is reconfigured and in which a new temporal rhythm is proposed.
Yours, the editors,
Petre Mogoș & Laura Naum
Editors: Petre Mogoș and Laura Naum
Fashion editor: Robert Antoniac
Graphic designer: Aliona Ciobanu
Copy editor: Natasha Klimenko
Coding: Matthias Pitcher and Conrad Weise
The Future of is a project developed by Kajet Journal and Dispozitiv Books. Forthcoming editions will focus on other relevant concepts in the constellation of contemporary life, such as The Future of Ghosts, The Future of Pop, The Future of the Real, The Future of the Future, and so on. The online project also exists in the form of a printed publication.
The project is co-funded by the Administration of the National Cultural Fund and Kajet Journal. The project does not necessarily represent the position of the Administration of the National Cultural Fund. The Administration of the National Cultural Fund is not responsible for the content of this project, nor for how the results of the project are used. These are entirely the responsibility of the organiser.
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