Nostalgia is a necessary thing, I believe, and a way for all of us to find peace in that which we have ccomplished, or even failed to accomplish. At the same time, if nostalgia precipitates actions to return to that fabled, rosy-painted time, particularly in one who believes his life to be a failure, then it is an empty thing, doomed to produce nothing but frustration and an even greater sense of failure." (R. A. Salvatore, Stream of Silver)
Nostalgia is one of the words that Steampunk feeds off. Anachronism is another one. Zeitgeist can be one, too. But today, let's talk about nostalgia. The term 'nostalgia' was coined in 1688 by Johannes Ofer by combining the Greek words 'nostos' (home) and 'algos' (pain) to refer to what was considered to be a medical disorder, a disabling longing for home. Over the years it has escaped its medical origin and into the realms of cultural practice personal pleasures and comfort, and the rhetoric of politics. And still the use of nostalgia is disparaged by critics, observes bonnett Alistair in Radicalism and the politics of Time, because nostalgia in the public is rebuked but personal nostalgia is indulged (5-7). In my essay I prefer to use the most basic definition of nostalgia, which is the longing and yearning for home and a gaze that looks back to the past to remember and reminisce. I also want to propose that with the proliferation of Neo-Victorian and steampunk novels, nostalgia is increasingly becoming a commodity for mass consumption.
Our desire to revisit the past is not simply to create and access storehouse of dead and obsolete forms of historical past as a source of inspiration, but also to counter what Benjamin condemns as the disease of the modern age--forgetfulness.emphasises on the intrinsic significance of forgetfulness in his theories becauss it is a beneficial exercise that leads to receptive openness of the future, transforming the present into the epoch that lives for and in the future. Eyal Chowers notes that in recent years there seems to be a resurgence of writings of history that attempt to counter this, which means we end up being no longer propelled into the future by a teleological force and find ourselves "floating aimlessly in a set of temporal fragments and random moments" (Rita Felski qtd in Radstone 10). Due to this sense of exile and homelessness, new possibilities have opened up for social theorists and Sci-Fi writers to find home in another time and space. If forgetfulness is really as dangerous as Benjamin makes it out to be, then the only way to resolve this is by finding home in our past. That is not to imply that we settle in the past and never advance. Instead the vision should reveal multiple homes in different times and spaces. If there is one thing that modern transportation has taught us, it is that the idea of home and comfort is no longer contingent on traditional notions of housing and spatiality. The para-modern man may feel exiled from the present and have the mentality to settle in the past or the future but continues to live in the present.
When nostalgia becomes more than a yearning for a home in our past and cultural heritage, that is when it transforms into what Jurgenson calls the augmented reality created by faux physicality, which is more coherently articulated in Elizabeth Outka's "Consuming Traditions" as commodified authenticity. It can be found and manufactured practically anywhere, from pre-distressed furniture and clothing to mass-produced faux-vintage jukebox that plays songs from your ipods, from Disney World that transmits an idyllic, imaginary past to its audience to Dickens World that realises the imagined worlds of novels from the past. Commodified authenticity is, in short, nostalgic forms of authentic goods that bring the past into contact with the present so that "instead of choosing between the past and the present, between an alluring sense of endurance and the chance to reinvent and possess, consumers might unite all these desires in one attractive package" (6). This commodified nostalgia, "conflating time and space in ways that allowed the past to live on, revitalized, in the present" (70), is exactly what steampunk offers--the past made readily accessible to be consumed, a gesture that is ambivalently both normative and transgressive (22). It is transgressive because it delivers nostalgia, which used to be exclusive to the academia, to the mass, and normative because it establishes expressions of authenticity and permanence.
Now, since I love getting replies, I'm going to throw a few questions out there: