Silvia Pierosara –
Melancholia, the Ambivalence of Nostalgia, and Critical Fabulation

This contribution applies critical theory methodology to the feeling of nostalgia, both on an individual and social-political level. It forms part of a larger project developing a critical theory of nostalgia. Here, I explore some contemporary examples, with a particular focus on, but not limited to, Europe.

First, I will distinguish between melancholia and nostalgia, highlighting the critical potential of the latter. Nostalgia has real “negative” potential and a kind of innate dialectical quality. Through the critique of nostalgia, we can recover the power of criticism and detect different approaches to the past. I also compare nostalgia to melancholia, a rather positive concept, that could be considered the ethical side of nostalgia.

After clarifying the distinction between nostalgia and melancholia, I will show why it is worth exploring the feeling of nostalgia in contemporary society and recognizing its burden of sameness, fusion, death drive, repetition, xenophobia, and racism.

I will also explore the possibility of reflective nostalgia. This starts from listening to stories of nostalgia to mine for unexplored possibilities in the past and understand if and under what circumstances nostalgia could be revealed as a resource rather than a threat to the ethics of memory.

Finally, I will explore the role of imagination — between pathology and openness to a better future — and liberate the possibility of a “critical fabulation”. Tracing back the concept of fabulation to Latin rhetorical studies, I will propose a reading of Saidyia Hartman’s idea of critical fabulation as an example of positive use of nostalgia in an emancipatory, forward-looking perspective.

Biography:

Silvia Pierosara is an Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Macerata, Italy. She studied the theory of recognition, narrative ethics, and relational autonomy.

She is interested in the ethical implications of narratives as paths to personal and social emancipation and in the exploration of the structural features that make narratives violent or tolerant, inclusive, and attentive to suffering. She actually explores the link between narrativity and relational autonomy. She devoted some monographs and several essays to these topics.

Her actual researches focus on: the possibility of a «narrative autonomy» that values the concept of self-authorship and scales back that of self-ownership; critical philosophy of history including progress, memory, and nostalgia.