Arthur Eaton Nostalgia abstract

Nostalgia – faith in the lost object

In Mourning and Melancholia (1915), Freud talks of two psychic reactions to loss. In mourning, the object is decathected through a re-living, or in Darian Leader’s (The New Black, 2008) terms ‘framing’, of the various ties to the object, by means of which the object is abstracted from the self. In melancholia by contrast, as a result of a confusion of self and object through identification, the self becomes depleted, or in Leader’s terms it ‘dies a psychic death’, while the object is spared.

In this paper we will consider nostalgia against the backdrop of mourning and melancholia as a psychic (displaced) response to a loss, or experience of absence in the present. In the 17th century, when the term ‘nostalgia’ was coined by a Swiss doctor, the absence was represented by a home country (nostos [νόστος] in greek is home, and algos [άλγος] means pain or longing; Heimweh in German), nowadays the term is used to indicate a feeling of often bittersweet longing for an unspecified lost object in time.

We will look at the changing meanings of nostalgia and the nostalgic experience, emphasizing the confusion of characteristics of space and time (the longing to return ‘within time’), the various ways in which a (displaced) memory can come to represent an absence experienced in the present, and we will look at the various psychoanalytic interpretations and theorizations of the concept that have been proposed in the past. Also, the peculiar characteristics of nostalgia that set it apart from other reactions to loss (i.e. the idealization of the lost object and the longing to ‘return’ to it) will be discussed, as well as the various dangers, but also the possibilities, latent in such a nostalgic response. The material will be illustrated by examples from literature (William Morris) and philosophy (e.g. Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger).


Arthur Eaton (1988) studied philosophy (BA) at the University of Amsterdam and psychoanalytic studies (MSc) at University College London, and is currently a PhD-candidate in history of medicine at UCL. He works as a lecturer and illustrator ( and divides his time between Amsterdam and London.