‘Nostalgia’, both as a word and a concept, originated in the seventeenth century to describe a condition afflicting Swiss mercenaries on long tours of military duty. According to UK cultural critic Simon Reynold’s 2011 book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, it ‘was literally homesickness, a debilitating craving to return to the native land. The symptoms included melancholy, anorexia, even suicide.’
Reynold’s book traces the gradual development of nostalgia, amongst other things, from its origins to the mid-twentieth century, by which time it had began to morph into a human emotion, used effectively by both reactionary and progressive movements. This shift also arguably coincided with capitalism’s discovery of the term and the realisation that nostalgia, (particularly our desire for retro culture, which Reynold’s argues has become so insatiable it threatens to calcify contemporary culture) could make money.
The media is full of examples of the emotional and financial power of the nostalgia industry. On the morning I write this, the newspaper carries a report that seventies stadium rock phenomena Queen have announced they are touring Australia, after years trying to find a replacement for Freddie Mercury, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. But you can tell nostalgia and its consumerist manifestations are becoming an all-powerful cultural force, when even centuries-old vampires are infected with it. And the vampires in director Jim Jarmusch’s latest effort, Only Lovers Left Alive, have got it bad.