On November 18th 1793, an alarmed French War Ministry cancelled convalescent leave, except for soldiers suffering from ‘homesickness’. For that, no other cure was known. Bleeding, leeches, strong drink… nothing worked – although a Russian General invading Germany in 1733 did find terror to be effective. He announced that any soldier incapacitated by nostalgia would be buried alive: after two or three burials, not a single case remained in the entire army.
Today, we see nostalgia less as malingering but more, perhaps, as an exaggerated affection for the past – reflecting both disenchantment with the present and foreboding about the future.
It might also be thought that only through our own memory, and that of others, do we truly understand any scene or object. Other needs – for continuity, for duration, for accreditation – play a major role in our valuation of the environments we inherit, both natural and constructed.
The pull of the past, and the perils of ignoring it, are exhibited in disciplines as diverse as archaeology and psychoanalysis. Our efforts to retain or recapture a vanished past are never wholly successful; however, the past we remember or reconstruct is always shaped by the bias of the present. The desire to make the past conform to our expectations leads us not only to alter evidence on the ground, but also to invent and fabricate it as well.
These images from my past are still mine: they inhabit my interior world and are as varied as life itself. I value the gift of memory and feel I carry a whole nation inside my head. Places that changed and the people who have disappeared: I hold on to things that are forever gone but will always be a part of me. Meanwhile, the new life and landscape, the changing view, streams by.