chapter  4
30 Pages

Feeling the past: embodiment, place and nostalgia

The past is not only discussed and thought about, it is also materialised in bodies, things, buildings and places. It is felt, experienced and expressed through objects, such as ruined buildings, monuments, flared trousers or the marks of wear on old furniture; and practices, such as commemorative rituals, historical reenactment, eating a sun-warmed peach or hearing a familiar melody. It is so in ways that may run counter to, or be in excess of, verbal articulations; the ‘feel of the past’ can be hard to express. Specific and embodied constellations of affect accompany some forms of past presencing – perhaps sadness and a feeling of loss in the commemorative ceremony; an uplifting sense of connection with people who lived long ago during a historical re-enactment; a sense of awe and even fear in encountering an embalmed corpse. Others are harder to characterise – the mix of melancholy and pleasure in touching, and being touched by, the indentations on an old chest of drawers or spade handle left by years of use; or the sense of being pulled into wistful recollection by the scent of hyacinths or notes of a street piano. Individual memories can prompt senses of joy, amusement, shame or grief, which in turn can have consequences for how they are addressed in ongoing life; and emotions may contribute to processes of remembering and forgetting, of feeling compelled or unable to speak about the past.