Nostalgia as an Emotion of Capital

Thomas Dodman, Columbia University

We live in an age of nostalgia, surrounded by the politics of nostalgia. How often have we heard that of late? Of course, we all recognize nostalgia when we see it and know that it “ain’t what it used to be”. But what, precisely, did it used to be? It turns out that nostalgia has a history and a fairly surprising one at that: not that long ago, people died of nostalgia. Understanding how this obscure lethal disease became a comforting psychological prop has implications for how we grapple with our present nostalgia moment. In this paper I wish to tackle this question drawing from archival research on the medical history of nostalgia. I seek to ground the changing form and content of nostalgia in specific regimes of temporality and spatiality that, I suggest, become uniquely apparent during the French colonization of Algeria in the late nineteenth century. In doing so, I hope to show both how nostalgia has to be understood as a capitalist emotion—or a kind of feeling specific to the capitalist epoch—and, more broadly, what such a history of affects can do in terms of historical epistemology and contemporary social critique.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 38. Politics of Nostalgia