The All-Seeing Eye of Google the Great, Cont.


I argued, in comments, the other day that my piece on 21st century fandom and music collection wasn't nostalgia. Here's an interesting counter:

Well . . . in a way, you ARE talking about nostalgia: The frustration-turned-sweetness of a memory that, at the time you were a boy wracking your brain over that fragment of a song that you knew you had heard but no one else seemed to know, coming to seem, after a while, like a dream, or like a legend. And I say "sweetness" because, after all, you hung on to the memory of that--the search as well as the fragment--all this time. As Emily noted down-thread in her quoting the Phaedrus, the ability to write, preserve and access information makes (collective/communal/tribal) memory less necessary, and there's a sadness in that fact. And, politically, a danger (though, as your posts on the moonlight-and-magnolias reading of the Secession make clear, nostalgia can be dangerous, too). 

I'm enormously grateful to the 'Nets for providing me access to music I otherwise literally never would have known existed, much less heard, even here on our pretty-good NPR station. (And not just jazz or alt-folk or ambient, but music from West Africa, fado from Portugal, etc., etc., etc.) But I have yet to feel nostalgia over a successful Google search. I still have clearer memories of trying to explain to pop-loving high school kids what Little Feat sounded like as I clutched Waiting for Columbus to my chest after just having spent waaay too much money for it but glad I had.

I get this. I guess what I want is some exploration of what changed and what we lost--if only on an emotional level. I believe that "loss" is interesting in and of itself. So I'm very interested in, say, how Howard University thrived during segregation, when it had a virtual monopoly on the black intelligentsia. I'm interested in the NFL before the advent of free agency, when you could follow a player throughout his career on one team. 

But I don't want to get trapped into arguing that the world was better under segregation, that the NFL was better when the labor force lacked bargaining power. I don't want to get locked into a substance-less romantic conservatism (small "c.") 

The past should be interesting for its own sake, on its own merits. It should not be shoe-horned into a database for solutions to our complicated present. The past can be literary. It need not be a think tank.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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