Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory
By Payman Akhlaghi (Opinion; Draft 2)

یادداشت: نوستالژی و حافظۀ درازمدت (یک دیدگاه) ـ ـ نوشتاری کوتاه از پیمان اخلاقی ـ ـ

First published on December 12, 2013, at, under:
Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory .

Nostalgia suggests two things among others. First, that the person has an active memory. Second, that in all likelihood, the person has a poorly selective and badly self-deceiving memory.

Acute Nostalgia glorifies the past while it trivializes the present with baseless exaggeration and decontextualized evaluation of some arbitrarily handpicked elements. It's as much an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo as it is an easy way out of our never-ending responsibilities to live, to create, to improve personal and collective life, i.e. to "mend the world. " It's a perversion of the otherwise necessary process of retrospective evaluation within a productive mindset which would constitute an aspect of perception, the collection of knowledge, and the formation of experience. Whereas nostalgia dwells in the past, retrospection relies on non-biased long-term memory as an invaluable source of information and experience in the services of the present.[1,2]

Humorously, Chronic Nostalgia may turn into a kind of melancholic addiction, a form of private entertainment, through which we may leave the present for the pleasures of a moment in our mind's theater, or even share the experience with like-minded friends. Certain dramatic shifts affecting large communities, such as the pervasive loss of social status after a revolution, or the shocking change of the surroundings following a mass emigration, might provide some justifying grounds which could for long obscure the true nature of the syndrome. The late 18th century impoverished aristocrats who supported the likes of Beethoven; émigré communities such as the mid-19th century Polish aristocracy in Paris around the time of Chopin; the early 20th century Russians in exile including Rachmaninov; or decades later, a figure such as Tarkovsky who delivered in exile no less than "Nostalghia" the movie, have exhibited more or less evident nostalgic states of mind and spirit, at the least if we may read between the lines of scattered intimate reports.[3]

However, we may as well learn much from those members of such displaced social groups who managed to move on and rapidly adapt to their new environments. To draw again upon the musical community, consider performers such as Horowitz, Rostropovich, Victor Borge, or V Ashkenazy, or prominent directors such as Fritz Lang, Hitchcock, Bergman, or Milos Forman, who seem to have been adept at embracing the present tense without losing their well-founded sense of the past.[4]

We may further propose that the opportunities available to these men contributed to their success as much as their psychological propensity, receptive attitudes, and acquired skills allowed them to seize and grasp, and benefit from, those generous opportunities.


[1] An enlightened spirit and a literary client of mine, Mr. Norman Gabay is inclined to stress in his many writings addressed to the Iranian community the need for retrospection to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and to "remain up to date", a catchphrase of his, a basic reminder especially for the religiously oriented Iranian Jewish community.

[2] In "The Way of Transformation", K G Dürckheim offers a succinct Zen-based view of the recycling process of such experiences. Given his sad and troubling emphatic Nazi and anti-Semitic past, he's one author that offers us many questions beyond this essay, which I plan to address in separate entries.

[3] The reader may allow for my natural bias toward musical and cinematic examples, given my educational background.

[4] For a sense of the nostalgia among former aristocracy or émigré communities, you may consider pages or scenes from the following books and movies, which the author has visited partially or in full over the years:

- "Beethoven" by Maynard Solomon.
- "Chopin's Funeral" by Benita Eisler.
- "Great Pianists" by Harold C Schonberg.
- "Horowitz" by Harold C Schoenberg.
- "Nostalghia", the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky.
- "Voyage in Time", a documentary in preparation of Nostalghia, with Tarkovsky and Tonino Guerra.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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