nostalgia, or, _„Zeiten wie diese“_

in which I attempt to thread some needles

I am by nature a very nostalgic person. I have vivid memories of things most people would—I hope—forget. To make matters worse, I’m the kind of person most people would describe as an “old soul,” I’m increasingly cautious of new technology, developments, flashy political candidates, untested policy, I could go on and on.

It’s maybe part of why I studied history and political science as an undergrad. And wrote a thesis that almost included an additional chapter on the strange beauty of the Austrian Empire and the potential it had to transform itself into a modern consolidated multinational state.1 An act of counterfactual self-indulgence, but it was my thesis and my advisor was generous in humoring me on projects like that. It’s more due to running out of time than anything else that it’s not in there now.

If my previous post was about the fact that the internet/technology, etc., has changed in a profound and unfortunate way, this is just a note of further reflection. In a way, I feel a little like I imagine Janus must feel. Always looking simultaneously forward and backward. At least when you’re looking forward and backward, you can still close your eyes for a minute. I don’t have that choice when I think about where I was, where I am, and where I’m going.

während „Zeiten wie diese“

I’m writing very very late on 2019-12-12. Today is exactly two years since I flew to Dulles airport and was met by my now colleague and then search committee chair to interview for the job I am very fortunate to have now, but I never thought I’d end up here. The night before my interview, I went for a very long walk along the Potomac Tidal Basin to see the FDR memorial. I figured that I wasn’t going to get the job and so I wanted to see it. The weather was horrible with a cutting north wind. Despite my gloves, my hands were chapped and bleeding.

Last year on this date, I went on the same walk and, yes, my hands bled again. I had planned to do it again tonight.

For better or worse, I didn’t do it tonight because I was at an event. And then I ate dinner with friends. One might think “oh, it’s a sign that I feel like I belong here now!” But no, still haven’t found it.

I don’t know what it feels like to be comfortable somewhere, I don’t know what it feels like to belong somewhere. And I can’t quite shake the feeling that I might never feel that way, anywhere. I’ll keep looking backward and forward. Maybe I’ll find it on another Very Long Walk someday.

The most challenging thing you or I can do, ever more challenging in „Zeiten wie diese“ is to look forward, with hope to achieve our world and not the world we fear.2 Let’s all do what we can. There’s not much else we can do.

  1. I’m using the term “consolidated state” in the sense of Charles Tilly in his 1975 essay “Reflections on the History of European State-Making." ↩︎

  2. To borrow the phrase from Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, available in libraries and fine indie bookshops everywhere. ↩︎