False nostalgia

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I mean false nostalgia for something that possibly didn't exist, certainly something you didn't experience but have only imagined.

Like thinking that you would be better suited to a different time in history, the desire to travel extensively by train, etc.

I swear there's a word for this, but I can't find it. There are several words that get close to the concept.


A Portuguese word for deep nostalgic and melancholic longing for something absent.


German mystical word with no direct English analogue, yearning mixed with an addictive quality. A very excellent concept, but slightly different from what I'm after.

C.S. Lewis used this word, referring to Sehnsucht as the "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what."

This is different for every person. For Lewis, he describes

That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.


In the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, the main character M. Gustave represents a way of life that no longer exists, and may never have existed outside of his own mind. His approach to his work perpetuates and perhaps creates an entire way of life.

But perhaps it's not so bad...

Rather than cruelly orienting us towards an irretrievable past, nostalgia ultimately points us ahead towards a future joy that transcends the sufferings of this world. Nostalgia allows us to glimpse moments where time as we experience it and eternity are indistinguishable. T.S. Eliot described such moments as the apprehension of the point of intersection between time and the timeless. Likewise, the 20th century French mystic Simone Weil wrote in her journal: “The past, not when the imagination takes pleasure over it, but as the moment when some meeting calls it before us in purity, is time colored with eternity. The feeling of reality in it is pure. There we have pure joy. There we have beauty.”

Nostalgia is not a deceptive repression mechanism of the psyche that tries to cover over our memories with a pleasant veneer; it is the deep emotional response to the glimpses of eternal joy which we experience here and now in painfully ephemeral moments. We don’t truly want to return to the moments themselves when they are recalled, we want to return to the joy that they intimated to us in our very souls: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” Nostalgia provides hope to us as it reveals a desire for union with something beyond ourselves and acts as a barometer of our deepest longing: the hope of redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet all along those glimmers of joy are short lived, and our myopic view of suffering tempts us to abandon hope altogether. Hope, if it is hope at all, must come from outside the futility to which creation has been subjected. Hope must come in some way through transcending the entrapments of a world in captivity to time and decay. Nostalgia simultaneously reveals to us hope’s presence and its very precarious position in this vale of tears.

- Nate Mills, the best article on nostalgia I've ever read