sentimentality, nostalgia and brexit


Sentimentality could be regarded as an emotionally led subjective feeling associated with past experiences. Sentimentality is a sensory trigger that brings about a series of feelings that you associate with a particular or set of moments. For example, if when you were young you had a particularly favourite meal and today you decided to repeat that recipe and the smell of that food brings forth some form of familiarity, then your memory may transport you back to that time when you were a child, therefore triggering various sentimental feelings. If you enjoyed this meal you would more so associate these feelings with pleasure or if you didn’t visa versa, this feeling may ultimately denote your senses to a greater sense of space giving you a much more rounded experience of your memories.  Marcel Proust in his “Remembrance of things past” defined a sequence of similar events. Proust recalls how the act of eating a French confection called a “madeleine” triggered a feeling of contentment, transporting him back to a time when his aunt used to feed him the confection. This sensorial experience for Proust also brings about a flashback into his past memories, memories surrounding himself and his aunt, denoting smell and taste to a greater sense of place and past environments, that of Sunday mornings at Combray”. Sentimentality in relation to material memory is essentially how the senses connect with past experiences in the present on an emotional level, how the ‘sensoriality’ or crossing of ones sensibilities trigger various perceptual experiences of material and immateriality within both a collective and subjective consciousness, I say collective as there are some perceptual experiences we all recognise and denote to similar or the same emotions because as beings we have all to some degree been raised in a similar way due to innate primal or cultural tendencies.


Juxtaposed, although nostalgia could be defined as a “sentimental longing” I would argue that it is slightly different. Nostalgia could be defined as a longing towards a romanticised past, an idyll or picturesque impression of time gone by. Nostalgia is a series of memories that aren’t per say a total recollection of the past but rather an integration and combination of various memories that in the process of recollection has meticulously filtered out all negative emotions. If we are to define nostalgia as a “sentimental longing” towards a romanticised past, then the conflicting nature of it becomes clearer. If no memory from the past is truly real and one can never return to the past with total recollection, then the past never truly existed, thus nostalgia is built on the falsity of our memories.


Nostalgia similarly to sentimentality does not follow a specific memory per say, but adheres to an emotional state, where it differs is that within the past this romanticised emotional state is enclosed, it longs to manifest and recreate an image of a specific time by replicating actions completed in the past era and by using symbolic representations of the past. Thus, idealized past emotions become symbiotically displaced onto objects, sounds, smells and tastes that were experienced concomitantly with that time and emotions. Below pictured and a perfect example of a current world issue that arose out of the falsity of nostalgia would be the hotly debated and indoctrinated “Brexit leave campaign” featuring former Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Brexit was from my understanding a campaign built on the basis and falsity of drastic immigration policies and a promised reimbursement of EU funding back to ‘the people’ and NHS. You could say that Nostalgia with regards to Brexit works well as a post-Madeleine model for understanding current affairs where the general public rejoice in their emotional state of a romanticised memory of a time where immigration was low and funding to the EU didn’t exist. Although, I could argue Brexit was a nostalgic induced series of occurrences I believe it is far deeper. The idea of ‘Brexit’ is validated firstly through the media which soon governs all memory of what happened and secondly on the idea of safety and retaliated anxiety, the idea that by making things the way they used to be everything will be better, you could say there’s something primal in the uncertainty that follows change. We as people tend to want to make ‘things the way they used to be’ because we simply already know what has happened, thus all possibility of failure or ‘failures’ are eradicated. So in a time when people feel uneasy with what’s happening within the world it is safer to reside in our nostalgia than rather move forward, even though inevitably we will always move forward in some shape or form like a child being pulled as it drags its feet. Where nostalgia fits into this as previously discussed is if the past is made up of an integration and combination of various memories with negative emotions filtered out then no memory of the past is completely true, in the past immigration probably still existed, money being sent to European countries probably still existed the only difference with regards to now is that the present reality, no matter how good, can never be as good as an ideal – which nostalgia has created, thus is why I believe the majority of British people wanted to make Britain “great” again and are now angry Britain is still Britain, once again.


Obviously this a personalised opinion of what has happened from the statistics that came out of the polls and does not adhere to everyone in Britain, yet I still believe this idea is applicable to many communities around the country, more so in the small village communities I myself come from, where rural authenticity remains intact and still. Although I do not necessarily agree with the Brexit leave campaign, I can empathetically understand from a jaded perspective. Brexit induced nostalgia for these smaller communities is expressed through cultural anxiety and uncertainty of the imaginary invasion of immigration to rural utopias, (of which I will touch on later) that of the ‘imagined British countryside; where the butchers have been standing since 1808. For many people within these spaces immigration is a threat to their utopic of rural peace and quiet, there illusory ‘perfect way of British life’. An immigrant is a stranger thus unknown and therefore a threat to rural utopia, because with the unknown comes uncertainty and with uncertainty, anxiety of change which is stirred up by the media and existing preconceptions and delusions. Thoughts within a community can become twisted and Chinese whispers amongst the collective begin, the village begins to differentiate ‘I’ with ‘them’ and the ‘akin’ with the ‘alien’ thus, those from a different place and culture become a hostile threat. ultimately what we deem to be true or false is subjective and how we react to the medias output also idiosyncratic. but I believe from a first hand experience living within a rural area that social anxiety amongst the masses often overshadows rational.




The underlying differences between sentimentality and nostalgia boil down to the fact that although nostalgia is influenced by forms of sentimentality it is not completely dictated by it. Sentimentality is an emotional sensorial response that is triggered by past experiences within the present, where as nostalgia on the other hand tends to be a cause of human dissatisfaction of the present reality, it is governed by the falsity of various memories and as a result an overview or reminiscence of a specific or you could say “better time” that has filtered out all negative emotion, thus is why people tend to become nostalgic about a specific era such as the ‘90s’.For example, in terms of post-Proustian theory you could say that sentimentality is the idea of Proust’s madeleine and the emotional triggers the French confection brings forth, where as nostalgia is the general overview and affiliation of Proust’s madeleine, how someone may remember studying the subject matter at school or university, thus remembering how much they miss school or university in the 00’s.

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