Retrotopia

Zygmunt Bauman thinks we are awash in nostalgia. We have created a Retrotopia.

Nostalgia, he argues, “is but one member of the rather extended family of affectionate relationship with an ‘elsewhere.’” Thus retrotopia shares characteristics with utopian inspirations and progressive projects, the main difference being that the Angel of History (Walter Benjamin) has made a U-turn, no longer moving forward while looking back but attempt to move backward while looking forward to a receding future.

There is a double negation behind this trend: “After the prospects of human happiness . . . have been unfixed, untied from any particular topos and individualized, privatized and personalized (‘subsidiarized’ to human individuals after the pattern of snails’ homes), it is their turn now to be negated by what they valiantly and all but successfully attempted to negate. From that double negation of More-style utopia—its rejection succeeded by resurrection—‘retrotopias’ are currently emerging: visions located in the lost/stolen/abandoned but undead past, instead of being tied to the not-yet-unborn and so inexistent future, as was their twice-removed forebear.”

Retrotopia exists in a symbiotic relationship with apocalyptic terrors about the future: “With such a U-turn happening, the future is transformed from the natural habitat of hopes and rightful expectations into the site of nightmares: horrors of losing your job together with its attached social standing, of having your home together with the rest of life’s goods and chattels ‘repossessed,’ of helplessly watching your children sliding down the well-being-cum-prestige slope and your own laboriously learned and memorized skills stripped of whatever has been left of their market value.”

Retrotopic nostalgia has infected contemporary politics: “Some have used disenchanting experiences with globalization as an excuse for a return to protectionism and the supposedly halcyon days of strong national borders. Others, wistfully recalling a nation-state that never really existed, cling to national sovereignty as a reason to refuse further European integration. Both groups question the foundations of the European project. But their memory fails them, and their yearnings mislead them.”

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