Je ne regrette rienIn June 2020 in a week in which VE day celebrations collided with Black Lives Matter protests we began to question the persistence of nostalgia as a form of social control. In the first chapter of a triptych - film, VR and mobile film shot in VR - Je ne regrette rien begins our reflection on the historical conception of nostalgia as a deadly disease.
Director: Fiona Bavinton
Writers: Fiona Bavinton, Clare Cahill
The struggle between people and power is the struggle between memory and nostalgia...
Writing of his inspiration for his famous painting “The Scream”, Edvard Munch said in his diary:
22 January 1892 One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.
I sense a scream passing through nature: Covid-19; self-isolation; Far Right/Far Left; more deaths of black men women and children; ‘fake news’; 5G conspiracies; the ongoing climate crisis; Twitter rants; ‘them’ vs ‘us’… In a socially distanced email, we were innocently asked “In lockdown, what do you miss?” The sender answered their own question: “A cold beer in the beer garden of the local pub on a warm summer’s evening.”
Much to our surprise this seemingly innocuous and wistful comment caused an almost violently visceral response. Nothing! We miss nothing! We don’t want to go back! Covid-19, far right/left, more black deaths, more fake news, 5G conspiracies, the ongoing climate crisis, Twitter rants, them vs us… No! We can do better than entertaining nostalgia.
What’s wrong with nostalgia? It is made from the Greek “nostos” meaning return or home and “algos” meaning pain – a sickness for the loss of home, homesickness or a feeling of homelessness. The philosopher Martin Heidegger interprets homelessness as a symptom of the oblivion of being.
What about the uses and abuses of memory we experience in contemporary society? Nostalgia is a favourite strategy; for example linking our approach to dealing with Covid 19 in terms of the ‘Blitz Spirit’. Obligating us to feel nostalgia, to occlude the fundamental structures and values that perpetuate a state of subordination based on, amongst other things, a meme of martial hegemony – the war against the virus, the war on terrorism, the war on drugs.
Our “exceptionalist” response? Like Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger whose visceral desire demanded that the Earth recognise him, we want to make the Earth scream.
“Je ne regrette rien” can be loosely translated as “I have no regrets” or “I regret nothing”. There are nuances that we think are important.
‘I have no regrets’ directly reflects our discomfort with nostalgia. We do not hold the past as a “golden era”. Nostalgia can be a trap that prevents us from looking forward. It is an unwelcomed distortion of memory; a diversionary tactic.
‘I regret nothing’ is socially more problematic for us as it can be used as an abrogation of responsibility in as much as we can look at an issue such as slavery and argue that it is a historical event for which we cannot be held responsible. In doing so we distance ourselves from responsibility for the signs and structures that originated then but that we have allowed, often unquestioningly, to persist. Today and tomorrow we are responsible for those.
“Je ne regrette rien” is our scream.
Please, can we put our screens to one side, look each other in the eye, acknowledge our collective humanity and offer an elbow bump of friendship.