Thursday, January 31, 2013
In her book “The Future of Nostalgia,” Svetlana Boym reminds readers that nostalgia was originally a medical condition. The word was coined by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer in the late 17th century. He used it to describe a debilitating disease that plagued its victims with depression, obsessive thoughts of returning home, and hallucinations of scenes from their homeland and the voices of distant loved ones. Populations especially at risk of contracting nostalgia included displaced workers, students from foreign lands, and of particular concern, soldiers fighting abroad. Boym explains that “[i]t was unclear at first what was to be done with the afflicted soldiers who loved their motherland so much that they never wanted to leave it, or for that matter to die for it.”
Today, of course, nostalgia is no longer a battlefield illness. Instead, curiously, nostalgia manifests itself among many Americans as a longing for wartime.