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The film Midnight in Paris and the novel Prague both explore the theme of nostalgia and its relationship to history, suggesting that nostalgia is reflective of people’s personal histories instead of people’s collective agreement of history, and these personal histories are the things that have an effect on how the present is treated. Nostalgia is entirely about the feelings that an individual experiences in response to an event in history and building the future upon those experiences; nostalgia is not about the shared specificities of an event which leave no room for diverse effects in the future.
The character of Paul in Midnight in Paris directly reflects the idea that personal history is the basis for nostalgia and its implications on the present. During the scene that Paul discusses the meaning behind Rodin’s statue (12:15-13:35), he consistently disagrees with the tour guide saying,
“So much of Rodin’s work was influenced by his wife, Camille.” “Yes, she was an influence, though Camille was not the wife but his mistress.” “Camille? No.” “Yes. Yes, Rose was the wife.” “No, he was never married to Rose.” “Yes, he did marry Rose, in the last year of their loves.” “I think you’re mistaken.”
Clearly, the tour guide and Paul have different histories about Rodin’s work. These are both personal histories in that the tour guide and Paul have opposing sources of information of the collective history which is Rodin’s work. They both have a firm belief that their history of the work is correct because their feelings about the work in the present were based off the personal collective of information of the work. The correct interpretation of the history of Rodin’s work is irrelevant since the two characters have not reached a consensus of the work, but what is relevant is the passion incited in these characters in the present by their personal experiences of Rodin’s work. Without differing opinions about a collective history, there would be no chance for active interactions in the present which would also create the possibility for multiple perspectives in the future. Another example in the film that deals with the concepts of personal and collective history is seen in an interaction between Gil and Gabrielle.
Gil and Gabrielle’s character interactions suggest the absence of nostalgia through their collective history of 1920’s Paris. At the end of the film (1:28:30-1:30:46), Gil offers to walk Gabrielle home but then hesitates when it starts to rain. Gabrielle responds, “I don’t mind getting wet. And actually, Paris is the most beautiful in the rain.” The idea that Paris is the most beautiful in the rain is an idea that Gil has been repeating throughout with the film. Since Gil’s wife had constantly disagreed with him, finding Gabrielle, who agrees with him, provides Gil with a sense of security in his personal histories. But since the two character’s histories of Paris in the rain are shared, they no longer become personal histories but a collective history. As a result, the present is directly treated the same as both characters’ nostalgia for the event; there is no possibility for a differing treatment of the future which discredits the notion that the characters are being nostalgic. They do not long for rain in Paris in the 1920’s because they are experiencing it in the present. The novel Prague expresses a statement on nostalgia and history in accordance to that of Midnight in Paris.
In Prague, the Horváth Press reinforces the idea of nostalgia in that there is a longing for an unattainable past by symbolizing the personal histories of the people in response to an event rather than a collective history of an event. Arthur Phillips writes,
Over nine months, the Horváth Press gave birth to four contradictory history books covering the previous thirty-three years. All of the books were financed by new or restored political parties; it was as if, with an uncertain future, the past as well grew hazy and no one could quite agree who had done what to whom or why. . . (158)
The Horváth Press is described as publishing four contradictory history books, in other words, the Press reflects different personal histories to an event rather than a united perspective on an event. It obviously didn’t matter what that particular objective history was, what mattered was that people reacted to an event and that reaction had an impact on his/her life in some meaningful way. If the past grew hazy, then nostalgia is heavily signified as something unattainable because people have lost sight of the actual event and have recreated different versions of that event in their lives without ever returning to the event itself; the feelings in response to the event dictated the future. Another example in the novel that considers the relationship between nostalgia and personal history is seen in Mark’s encounter with CNN.
CNN suggests an absence of nostalgia since the present is constantly being updated based on people’s collective feelings towards old commodities through its example of an updated commodity. Phillips writes,
No one ever knew they were old-fashioned; everyone always thought that they were up-to-the-minute: Rickety model T cars weren’t rickety when they were invented, scratchy radio wasn’t scratchy until television, and silent movies weren’t a feeble precursor of talkies until there were talkies. (259)
The terms ‘rickety,’ ‘scratchy’ and ‘feeble’ are all feelings attributed to their commodities. These feelings became collective; therefore, nostalgia is not at play since everyone lives up-to-the-minute and not historically. Since commodities have come and gone throughout history as a whole, people consider themselves to be living in the constant present as it is reflected by their constant disgust with previous objects. The present and future is a common cycle of material fluxes without regard to whether these new technologies are actually desired as a result of the past.
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