When Nostalgia Forgets the Present
The movie “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen explains nostalgia as the negation of the present through the life of its main character. The name of this fallacy is the Golden Age Syndrome and this is the mistaken idea that a certain period of time is better than the one we live in. This mistake of our romantic imagination tends to show up in people who have a hard time facing the present.
Midnight in Paris is a cinematographic comedy that shows us life as something that is not as magical as it is in our dreams, but where we can indeed be the masters of our own decisions.
The main character’s present is not very pleasant. He is under-appreciated by his girlfriend and her family. He feels lonely. He had thought things would turn out was quite different: joyful, respected, lots of friends, and a new love that would make him want to stay and leave everything behind.
His desire to stay attached to a time in the past is a form of denying his present. A present full of compromises that far from fulfilling him, bores him. Due to his cowardice and his lack of determination, instead of facing that present, he falls into to a fictitious past where he indeed finds everything he is looking for. In the end, reality imposes itself and he will have to make a complicated decision.
“Nostalgia is a romantic way of being sad.”
The golden age complex
A softened version of this complex takes place in our melancholic thoughts, when we think that some time in the past was better than the one we live in now. Everything revolves around that time, our hobbies, our obsessions, our behaviors, trying to recover it.
By believing that different things will never be as good as they were in the past, we are feeding the golden age complex. This complex will also irremediably lead us to live attached to the past, and as a consequence, we will never be satisfied with what we have in the present.
There also tend to be these sorts of patterns in romantic relationships. This happens when we think that a relationship that we had in the past cannot be beat and that if we have another in the future, it will also be inferior to that one from before. Thinking this way will inevitably lead us to look for what we already had with a totally different person, which will in turn cause us to make comparisons and not to value what we really have here and now.
“Even the past can be change; historians never stop showing us that.”
-Jean Paul Sartre-
Nostalgia as a denial of the present
Nostalgia is defined as suffering form the thought of something that one has had or experienced and that no longer exists or that has changed.When we get nostalgic, we remember a past reflected in a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, in the process of which all the negative experiences have been filtered out.
Neurologist and psychiatrist Alan R. Hirsch points out that nostalgia encourages the tendency to more easily forget negative thoughts, leaving us only with the positive aspects of our memories. This is why we remember all the good experiences of our childhood, our friends, recess at school, our toys, and we forget the times that weren’t so good, the suspense, punishment, boring time in classes.
So memory is responsible for telling us who we are, without losing meaning through who we were. Understanding this evolution is precisely what has to make us return to the past, without remaining trapped in it.
There is no worse nostalgia than longing for what never existed.