“Legislated Nostalgia:” Memory Manipulation

One of the blurbs in the margins of “Shopping is Not Creating” in Generation X defines “Legislated Nostalgia” as “To force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess: ‘How can I be part of the 1960s generation when I don’t even remember any of it?” The irony is, of course, that this is precisely the project with which Generation X is concerned: collecting, cataloging, and forcing the identity of a generation (along with all of its misgivings). In fact, many of the texts we’ve encountered are concerned with cataloging identity, though often it’s a personal identity rather than a collective one (as in My Body & a Wunderkammer). Obviously one of the purposes of literature is to catalog personal and collective history; however, the introduction of a flexibility in text structure changes the way readers interface with that history.

And in fact, the use of hypertextual “play” enables a forced immersion into someone else’s intimate world that is often highly personal. One poster on this blog described a visceral, uncomfortable reaction to not just the content, but also the structure of “My Body & a Wunderkammer”. Perhaps this forced immersion is partly what made this reader describe “My Body…” as “abrasive.” In “The Jew’s Daughter,” the fragmented navigation through the text is entirely representative of actual recall. This navigation is based on literal word association; focusing on (mousing over) one word can change the entire content of the text as a series of related memories and thoughts pop up.

As with many of the books we’ve read alongside hypertexts, Generation X gives us an opportunity to see the progression away from traditional literary structure. Although it presents an often tongue-in-cheek account of the growth of a generation, it is still limited by its traditional structure. The presence of the notes in the margins are an admirable attempt to inject disruption and sidetracking into the text, but it’s simply not as effective as removing the text from a page before you have a chance to finish it, like a thought that gets away.

However, reading a little further into Generation X‘s definition of “Legislated Nostalgia” does raise a good, cynical point. Isn’t there something intrinsically disquieting about force-feeding a set of memories to someone? Simply reading an account of them is one thing, but texts like “The Jew’s Daughter” force us to experience someone else’s memories. “Legislated Nostalgia” might principally refer to the uselessness of assigning a set of memories to an entire generation, but it’s also worth thinking about the effect this has on the fundamental relationship between readers and texts.

-jocelyn petyak


~ by jocelynpetyak on February 21, 2010.

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