Performing nostalgia: body, memory, and the aesthetics of past-home
Publication DateDecember 1 2012
Since its etymological beginnings, the meanings and usages of nostalgia have shifted markedly. In the shifting, nostalgia’s associations with the body and with the concept of home has diminished. This study of African American nostalgia for Africa uses genealogical inquiry, personal and autoethnographic narrative, and performance theories and practices to reinvigorate the relations between body, memory, aesthetics, past, and home. Attending to operations of time and space, I theorize the aforementioned relations in order to build a theory of critical nostalgia. Following Debbora Battaglia, I argue and illustrate that nostalgia is an act realized in performance, and I develop my theory of critical nostalgia investigating three primary sites of memory: two African American genealogy websites, Elmina Castle, a slave castle located on Ghana’s West coast, and my own staged theatre production Copious Notes: A Nostalgia Tale.
Informed by Michel Foucault’s method of critical genealogy and Joseph Roach’s genealogies of performance, I offer critical nostalgia as a method of scholarly inquiry, as an active practice of personal and cultural memory, as a tool for representing memories of past‐homes, and as a compositional aesthetic. In the study, I interrogate the history of nostalgia and its use for scholars as a critical category. Theorizing the positionality of the corporeal black body within nostalgic appeals of home, homeland and community, I attend to the relations between origin, roots, and identity. Further, I explore the performative possibilities of nostalgia in relation to affective bodily experience and in relation to narratives of trauma. Finally, I illustrate the utility of critical nostalgia for creating aesthetic performances sensitive to time and space, and I synthesize the major tenants of critical nostalgia for use in performance praxis.
, Performing Arts