I am moving in. At last I am beginning to feel more at home sharing my thoughts in this way. It seems somewhat daunting, at first. If not altogether arcane, the internet as a communal space, an event in which to partake rather than a means for the taking or the taking in is still unexplored territory to me. How can I file my claim in a land whose boundaries I do not yet grasp?
I am not calling this journal broadcastellan for nothing. The past to me is not a dungeon cluttered with artifacts, nor a fortress to be taken. It is a castle I am building with materials I gather while listening. Tuning in, belatedly, to live broadcasts of the 1930s or ‘40s, I seem to be living on recycled air; but what I come across can still feel like a fresh current, not an atmosphere that is stagnant or miasmic. Catching a reverberation of the past, I am breathing it in and breathe in it. This stronghold is well ventilated.
I have always been suspicious of both history and nostalgia as motivations for looking (or listening) back. History is the effort to make sense of the past, a figuring out—rather than a figuring forth—of it; nostalgia, by comparison, strikes me as an act of self-absorbed pillaging, a heedless appropriation. If the former lacks creative freedom, the latter means taking liberties rather too freely. In a review of a friend’s book I once called “nostalgia” the “fruitful reverie of a past whose text is a history of longing.” Now, even I don’t quite know anymore what that might mean—but I can still feel it ringing true.
Nostalgia is a longing for an elusive and largely undefined bygone, while history is a longing for knowledge of what has truly been going on all along; but neither approach enables us to achieve a sense of belonging as we behold or hold on to the past. Listening to historic broadcasts, I dwell on air; I do not linger in a vacuum. I might be the creator of this castle, but its stuff—the found matter that is its foundation—has to be weighed, handled and shaped with care and understanding.
What is my place in this castle I am constructing? What is the responsibility of a broadcastellan—the present keeper of a home for live records of the past?