Cover image for The future of nostalgia
The future of nostalgia
Boym, Svetlana, 1959-2015.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xix, 404 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1310 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CB427 .B67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Can one be nostalgic for the home one never had? Why is it that the age of globalization is accompanied by a no less global epidemic of nostalgia? Can we know what we are nostalgic for? In the seventeenth century, Swiss doctors believed that opium, leeches, and a trek through the Alps would cure nostalgia. In 1733 a Russian commander, disgusted with the debilitating homesickness rampant among his troops, buried a soldier alive as a deterrent to nostalgia. In her new book, Svetlana Boym develops a comprehensive approach to this elusive ailment. Combining personal memoir, philosophical essay, and historical analysis, Boym explores the spaces of collective nostalgia that connect national biography and personal self-fashioning in the twenty-first century. She guides us through the ruins and construction sites of post-communist cities-St. Petersburg, Moscow, Berlin, and Prague-and the imagined homelands of exiles-Benjamin, Nabokov, Mandelstam, and Brodsky. From Jurassic Park to the Totalitarian Sculpture Garden, from love letters on Kafka's grave to conversations with Hitler's impersonator, Boym unravels the threads of this global epidemic of longing and its antidotes.

Author Notes

Svetlana Boym was born in Leningrad, Russia on April 29, 1959. She received a bachelor's degree in Hispanic languages and literatures from the Herzen State Pedagogical Institute in Leningrad, a master's degree in Hispanic languages and literatures from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University. She became an assistant professor at Harvard in 1988.

Her work included the nonfiction books Death in Quotation Marks: Cultural Myths of the Modern Poet, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia, The Future of Nostalgia, and Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea; a novel entitled Ninochka; and a play entitled The Woman Who Shot Lenin. She was also known as a photographer, with her work exhibited at galleries around the world. She died from cancer on August 5, 2015 at the age of 56.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Boym exposes the cultural and political dynamics of nostalgia, showing that the yearning for an idealized past can infect not only the individual psyche but even entire nations. In illuminating the ways that nostalgia has helped to falsify history, Boym traces its malign influence on modern ideologues of the left and right. But from literature and art, she gleans a different, less destructive nostalgia, one that reconciles us to our losses and invests our grief with meaning. Omnivorous scholarship yields a subtle typology of nostalgia, with illustrations from Dostoyevsky's novels and Baudelaire's poetry on the one hand, and from Jurassic Park and Revlon ads on the other. Boym's imaginative and scholarly gifts serve her especially well in explaining the mutating types of nostalgia that are transforming post-Communist countries and in probing the complex emotions of immigrants from such countries, exiles at once saddened by and fearful of their lost heritage. Serious students of modern culture will find no better book for explaining why a society increasingly dependent upon globalized hyperspace is also a society awash in nostalgia. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

The future of nostalgia isn't what it used to be, or at least it won't be once this book starts making its way through academic circles. A sort of training manual for the wistful, Boym's book alternates "between critical reflection and storytelling, hoping to grasp the rhythm of longing, its enticements and entrapments"; along the way, the author not only gives new life to an old idea but also offers a number of original terms that can be used to describe the experience. The first part of Boym's study surveys the history of nostalgia as a disease and introduces two varieties, a "restorative nostalgia" that may contain conspiratorial elements (the notion that a certain "they" have destroyed "our" homeland, for example), and a "reflective nostalgia" that leads to a sense of not being able to go home again. Part two deals with postcommunist cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg (where Boym, now a Harvard professor of Slavic and comparative literature, worked as a tour guide in the late '70s) and may be of more interest to pure Russophiles than to intellectuals in general. The book's third and final section examines the work of Nabokov, Brodsky and other artists whom Boym calls, in her most useful contribution to critical vocabulary, "off-modern." Neither modern nor postmodern, these artists (and their ranks include such odd ducks from the last century as Igor Stravinsky, Walter Benjamin, Julio Cort zar and Georges Perec) "explore side shadows and back alleys rather than the straight road of progress." Thus the past may be conceptualized in any number of ways, and apparently, at least according to the author, the only truly pernicious nostalgia is the prefabricated, Disney-fied kind that keeps one from thinking about the future. Otherwise, says Boym, the sky, whether it's the one you see overhead or the one you remember, is the limit. (Apr.) Forecast: This is an interesting addition to cultural history, but a bit esoteric, and is unlikely to find a readerhip outside of the literati. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The current U.S. craze for nostalgia runs from automobiles (the PT Cruiser) to fashion (the return of bell-bottoms) to television (TV Land reruns). Despite modern technology and conveniences, we enjoy looking back to yesterday. Boym (Slavic and comparative literature, Harvard Univ.; Death in Quotation Marks) divides her study of nostalgia into three parts. In the first section, she examines the history of nostalgia, once seen as an ailment to be cured. The second part focuses on cities, specifically Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Berlin, and on post-Communist memories. In Part 3, Boym probes what she calls the stories of exile, looking at the writings of Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky, and others who wrote of lost homes. She also examines how nostalgia affects us today, citing movies like Jurassic Park and the subsequent interest in dinosaurs. This multifaceted work gives the reader much to ponder in regard to what we hold dear. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic collections. Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Cultural studies is a notoriously nebulous discipline whose definition covers everything from politically motivated side taking to the most adamant empiricism. Boym's insightful inquiry into nostalgia offers a glimpse of cultural studies freed from the academic contentiousness. Viewing nostalgia as modernization's cultural double, Boym (Slavic and comparative literature, Harvard Univ.) pursues her investigation on historical, theoretical, and critical planes. She first traces the metamorphosis of nostalgia from a treatable 18th-century medical symptom into an incurable longing for elsewhere that is a virtual foundation of contemporary global pop culture. Historical progress in the late 19th century polarized nostalgia into a reactionary form of return to authentic (racial, national, cultural) origins and a critical form of rejection of the available forms of cultural expression. This polarity informs the examination of the time-warping, postcommunist urban landscapes of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Berlin that makes up the central chapters of Boym's study. The author closes by elucidating shapes given to nostalgia by the works of exiled Russian writers (Nabokov, Brodsky, Kabakov). Boym's trail of incisive comments on cultural artifacts (from Jurassic Park to decorative trinkets) leads the reader to accept her study's underlying conviction: "nostalgia," a fake Greek word made up by a Swiss doctor, is apt for a world suffused with artificiality. All levels. O. Gelikman Johns Hopkins University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Taboo on Nostalgia?p. xiii
Part 1 Hypochondria of the Heart: Nostalgia, History and Memory
1 From Cured Soldiers to Incurable Romantics: Nostalgia and Progressp. 3
2 The Angel of History: Nostalgia and Modernityp. 19
3 The Dinosaur: Nostalgia and Popular Culturep. 33
4 Restorative Nostalgia: Conspiracies and Return to Originsp. 41
5 Reflective Nostalgia: Virtual Reality and Collective Memoryp. 49
6 Nostalgia and Post-Communist Memoryp. 57
Part 2 Cities and Re-Invented Traditions
7 Archeology of Metropolisp. 75
8 Moscow, the Russian Romep. 83
9 St. Petersburg, the Cosmopolitan Provincep. 121
10 Berlin, the Virtual Capitalp. 173
11 Europa's Erosp. 219
Part 3 Exiles and Imagined Homelands
12 On Diasporic Intimacyp. 251
13 Vladimir Nabokov's False Passportp. 259
14 Joseph Brodsky's Room and a Halfp. 285
15 Ilya Kabakov's Toiletp. 309
16 Immigrant Souvenirsp. 327
17 Aesthetic Individualism and the Ethics of Nostalgiap. 337
Conclusion: Nostalgia and Global Culture: From Outer Space to Cyberspacep. 345
Notesp. 357
Indexp. 391