There is an innate challenge posed to artists, particularly photographers who, after a significant period of absence, endeavour to describe landscapes with which they assume a certain level of intimate, nostalgic familiarity. Nostalgia, as per its Greek derivation ‘Nostos’, suggests a longing to return home, the poetry of memory with which it is so often entwined functioning as a salve by which the ache of homesickness is temporarily eased. Yet such poetic associations tend to be as fragile as they are vital, made animate within the human imagination through desire heightened by distance, and the poetry of memory is frequently destroyed upon encounter with its place of origin. In her reflection on the different mechanisms of memory explored within Marcel Proust’s literature, American poet Susan Stewart identifies the prevailing contemporary experience of nostalgia as bound largely to acts of wilful or ‘volitional’ memory, as opposed to forms of involuntary ‘Proustian’ memory, which arises spontaneously and often in response to some kind of unexpected sensory stimulus. Stewart suggests that the ‘experience’ of nostalgia, when born of volitional memory, is by nature ‘doomed to an inauthentic form’ and serves little significant function beyond providing a compensatory mechanism for our cultural surrender to linear time.
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