Carte Semiotiche is an international and interdisciplinary journal of semiotics and image theory dedicated to the exploration of the production of sense in visual objects. The journal welcomes and encourages a plurality of points of view on the visuality of cultural objects. In the belief that textual analysis is a crucial tool for the comparison between different disciplinary approaches, Carte Semiotiche favors orientation towards textuality and the analytical dimension of research. Each annual monographic volume focuses on a specific topic open to different approaches.
Scenes of Nostalgia
edited by Mario Panico
The emotion of nostalgia has a particular semantic history. Though composed of two Greek words – νόστος (nostos, return) and άλγία (algia, pain) – the term is not of Hellenic derivation. It was in fact linguistically ‘invented’ by the Swiss Johannes Hofer (1688) to refer to the state of physical malaise that gripped those soldiers who were forced to abandon their homeland (cf. Prete 1992, Leone 2014). Over the centuries, then, nostalgia has migrated into different spheres, becoming both a passion of space – a “pain of distance from a place” that can only be remedied by a physical return – and an emotional frustration linked to temporality: to the irreversibility of past time, to the impossibility of frequenting it again, to the presupposed dissatisfaction with the present (Starobinski and Kemp 1966, Jankélévitch 1974, Prete 1992, Teti 2020).
In the field of semiotics, it was Algirdas Julien Greimas (1986) who offered the first lexematic analysis of the nostalgic passion. He worked on “French” nostalgia according to the definition in the Petit-Robert dictionary. In these pages, nostalgia is configured as a diaphoric passion, balanced between dysphoria and euphoria, which allows the subject to regret, and therefore be sad, but also to desire an object that has made them happy. In other words, nostalgia characterises a subject who, well aware of their present position, feels disconnected from an object of value that belongs to the past, to another time. The awareness of this condition and the comparison between present and past pushes the subject to a pathemic wasting away, followed by regret.
Nostalgia places the regretting subject in front of the fact that something – or someone – that once made them feel good now belongs to a past space/time. Thus, it imposes itself as an action of emotional resistance to an irreversible loss that would otherwise aspectualise(s) and modalise(s) past time as terminative, something that can no longer return. This generates regret, but also, nonetheless, an active desire for it to return again in the here and now.
Shifting from the individual to a collective and cultural level, the isotopy of space and time in relation to nostalgia returns in many subsequent semiotic works that build on Greimas’ seminal text. Among them the works by Isabella Pezzini on Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1998); Francesco Mazzucchelli on jugonostalgia (2012); Lucio Spaziante on TV series (2012), Daniela Panosetti and Maria Pia Pozzato on vintage (2013) as well as Gianfranco Marrone (2016, 2019), investigating the relationship between nostalgia, the future, aesthetics and culinary culture; and those by Massimo Leone on the relationship between temporality, forms of consumption and urban retropia (2014, 2019); and by Piero Polidoro (2017, 2020) on nostalgia’s “circumstantial effect” through the media.
Though they each pursue different objectives, the themes in the background of these studies are those of the translation and positive evaluation/sanction of the past, regardless of whether it was concretely experienced or merely imagined (Greimas 1986, Appadurai 1996). These are two issues that have also animated the extra-semiotic debate on nostalgia, particularly in the fields of sociology and anthropology. The year 2001 marked a turning point in this respect: Svetlana Boym published The Future of Nostalgia, in which she proposed a double typology of nostalgia, “restorative” and “reflexive”, corresponding to two different ways of relating to the past, two different expectations and evaluations of it.
In the first case, the past is conceived as an object of value to be desired and regained through its identical reconstruction. Images and values – the spirit of the past – are used as an epistemic and normative point of reference so as to revive a present that is considered unsatisfactory. In the political sphere, for example, this is common in the nationalist and anti-progressive movements that repropose images of the past as the key to resolving crises of the present and the future. Boym’s second category, on the other hand, does not aspire to actualizing the past but calls into question personal history, and the feeling that characterises the memory of past experiences – or what is bitterly accepted as such.
These are evidently not monolithic categories, but analytical classifications of a chameleon-like passion which moreover changes alongside the context in which it is being investigated, be it political, media, artistic, commercial, etc. (a dizzying list of the various “adjectives” of nostalgia can be found in Ange and Berliner 2014).
The present issue of Carte Semiotiche focuses on the figures, discourses and cultural strategies of nostalgia within the different contexts and spaces of the semiosphere, ranging from art, urban space, old and new media environments, politics and everyday practices. In particular, we invite contributors to reflect on texts and practices in which the longing for the past is articulated primarily through visual texts and strategies.
The contributions will not so much account for the psychological dimension of the passion (on this see, for example, Routledge 2016), but for the discursive and ideological rhetorics connected to it, those which can rearticulate temporality and produce new meaning effects for the past. Particular emphasis will therefore be placed on the ways groups and cultures relate to temporalities, making their memories into passions, producing a polished image of the past, and inventing beliefs and myths that are useful for self-preservation.
These resemantizations of the past confront us with the urgent question of how to redefine the various semiotic, philosophical and anthropological features of nostalgia. Proposed papers can therefore investigate nostalgia proposes new regimes of truth, chronologies and imaginaries, as dictated by fantasies, desires, fears and aspirations (cf. Affuso 2012). In this respect, nostalgia stands as a saving and consoling passion that not only embellishes the past but also neutralises its conflicts, so that they do not interfere with the new version of time gone by.
Articles could address the following possible, not exclusive, areas of research:
- Nostalgia: theoretical issues
- It is fruitful to reflect on the numerous relations that nostalgia has with past temporality in relation to cultural variables. Looking at languages, we can see how “longing for the past” can be captured in different words (saudade in Portuguese, Fernweh in German, homesickness in English, mal du pays in French, Natsukashii in Japanese), or in related passions such as “melancholy”, “regret”. Comparing these terms can reveal cultural differences and the resulting attributions of meaning to the past and present.
- Semiotic, art theoretical, philosophical-aesthetic, sociological and anthropological reflections related to nostalgia and visual culture are welcome. Citationism, the preservation and restoration of ruins and debris that evoke a past present (Augé 2004): these are all processes that can be linked to the theme of nostalgia, the modalisation of the past, the construction of a temporal continuity, as well as the politics of transmission of memory.
- The aesthetics of nostalgia
In contemporary culture, nostalgia is a sprawling passion that affects different spheres of everyday life, constantly changing its meaning: from politics (Bonnett 2010) to food (Marrone 2016, 2019, Stano 2021) and marketing (Marrone 2017), from fashion (Panosetti and Pozzato 2013, Panosetti 2015) to music (Tinker and Dauncey 2014, Marino 2017), from cinema (Morreale 2009) to media and digital culture (Niemeyer 2014, Terraciano 2018).
In a semiotic perspective, contributors are invited to reflect on the “discursiveness” of nostalgia, on ways of aestheticizing and receiving the past between a “represented passion” and a “produced passion” (see Pezzini 1998, Polidoro 2017). In other words, what themes, figures and actors contribute to the nostalgic narration of the past? How is nostalgic regret represented? How is it induced in the reader/viewer subject? What strategies are used to talk about a “nostalgia effect”?
- A semiotics of the nostalgic subject
Who, then, is the nostalgic? How is the nostalgic subject represented? What is their cognitive and passionate status? What is the relationship between a cognitive competence of the past (understood, in this case, as both what they know and what they should know) and a belief and expectation of the future? What are their ‘tastes’ in the past? Are there any visual texts which offer emblematic representations of the nostalgic subject (one thinks, for example, of the protagonist in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris, 2011, that of Nicolas Bedos’s film La Belle Époque, 2019, or the one in Nostalgia, 2022, by Mario Martone)? Is it possible to talk about a collective nostalgic subject? How can we define collective feeling (cf. Pezzini e Del Marco 2012, Mangano e Terraciano 2012)?
Other possible questions include: is it possible to identify a ‘Nostalgic Model’ underlying the texts that sweeten the past? If so, how is it summoned, foreseen, expected, suggested in textual narratives/plots? What is the encyclopaedic (and memorial) baggage required from the user of the text, what passionate and cognitive predisposition is the subject expected to have?
- Nostalgia as a cultural practice
Practices of consumption, tourism, food, politics, etc., can also be nostalgically oriented. For this section we invite contributions focusing mainly on practices that aim to create an atmosphere “outside” the present time, with particular reference to the intentionalities of nostalgia.
- Material culture and nostalgia
Material objects have a special relationship with nostalgia (see Stewart 1992, Leone 2014). When they are linked to memories of the past, they are “surviving” traces, but also fetishes, ambassadors of lost times, symbols of past eras, bridge-signs between the present and the past. How is the relationship between material culture and nostalgia structured? Or, for instance, the esthesic and aesthetic dimension of nostalgia in relation to objects and involuntary and nostalgic memories, as the works of Marcel Proust suggest (cf. Pezzini 2021).
- Nostalgia: a passion of memory, a politics of memory
Papers can also focus on the constructive character of nostalgia in relation to the politics of collective and cultural memory, how it ideologically redefines the chronology of events, exalts a presumed greatness of the past, and/or constructs myths and popular icons.
- Spaces of nostalgia
Contributors are invited to reflect on those spaces, such as urban areas and museums, which are nostalgically oriented and propose an embellishment of the past. One thinks, for example, of the fascination with the past that is proposed in the museums of ostalgie in East Germany or in ethnographic museums that reconstruct the space of origins or the domestic space of a “lost world”.
The Editorial Board invites interested scholars to send an abstract with a proposal of contribution of 2000 characters (500 words) in English, French, Italian, Spanish (please a short bibliography attached) by the 10TH SEPTEMBER 2022 to the following addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributions in Italian, English, French, Spanish
Abstract length: max. 2000 characters including spaces (about 500 words)
The abstract must contain the indications of a minimum bibliography of reference
Articles length: max. 40,000 characters including spaces (about 8000 words)
Images: b/w in body text and color in separate file (jpeg, png, resolution at least 1500 pixels on the largest side)
Abstract submission deadline: 10 SEPTEMBER 2022
Date of communication acceptance of proposals: 17 SEPTEMBER 2022
Deadline for delivery of selected contributions: 15 DECEMBER 2022
End of review process: 30 JANUARY 2023
Expected release date of the volume: MARCH 2023