Monday, June 12, 2006
On Thursday of last week in the middle of June, as we approach the pinnacle of summer, it grew cool and damp with the wind coming straight out of the north. I walked to the Lake in a daze, wondering if I was actually in the same place that I had been on the warm, humid evening before. Looking out over Lake Michigan, I was surprised to see that it had the same "character" (color, texture, raging waves) as many of the lakes that I had paddled across in the Boundary Waters. Even after living alongside the Lake for three years, until this particular morning I assumed that Lake Michigan was tame"and industrialized, so I was surprised to see these Northerly, steely grey waves repetitively pounding against the pile of rocks that make up the break water. Based on this experience, I would argue that place is something that we take with us, layering one place over another and then another, that it is impossible to separate one place from another in the memory of an individual, and yet, the preservation of a place requires environmentalists to prove that it is like no other place in teh world. Is there a way for artists and writers to rectify the multi-layered experience of a place with its definition as a complete, unique entity?
Posted by RGolden at 3:11 PM
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Working on a project about the New England woods--a place I have visited, remember, read about in books, has generated many questions about the relationship between a sense of place and nostalgia. Embarking on a project about a place that is far away geographically, and soon to be rendered inaccessible with its destruction, makes the risk of slipping into a wallowing, romanticized sense of this place even more dangerous. But first--how do I define nostalgia? The phrase "nostos" meaning to return home and the phrase "algia" meaning longing--certainly nostalgia means an unattainable home that remains at a distance. Embedded in this definition is also its opposite--if nostalgia for a lost home implies spacial and temporal distance, this sense is always juxtaposed with the here and now, the place that is not the "home" of which I am dreaming--the lived place. This issue was brought to my attention by the opening chapter of Svetlana Boym's book, "The Future of Nostalgia"(2001). She begins the book, with an excerpt from a Russian newspaper which tells the story of a man from Germany who returns to the Kaliningrad where his parents were born. He recognizes nothing from their stories until he reaches the Pregolya River. Overjoyed he splashes the river's water on his face feeling at home at last, but the terribly polluted water scars him. A gruesome way to start an art theory text and a cautionary tale about the risk of being misguided by nostalgia into "false" identification with a place you know nothing about. But can nostalgia be productive? Perhaps being nostalgic is not so much a state of being on one side of the equation or the other--near or far, at home or away, living in the past or the present, but a condition of ping-ponging back and forth between two poles. A condition of living in both the past and the present, being both at home and away. Perhaps this is why the topic of nostalgia makes many art critics, writers and artists so squeamy, like a slugish, dirty river we can't resist dipping into.
Posted by RGolden at 5:57 PM