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The Nostalgia Factory

The Nostalgia Factory: Memory, Time and Ageing

Translated by Liz Waters
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Nostalgia Factory
    Book Description:

    You cannot call to mind the name of a man you have known for 30 years. You walk into a room and forget what you came for. What is the name of that famous film you've watched so many times? These are common experiences, and as we grow older we tend to worry about these lapses. Is our memory failing? Is it dementia?

    Douwe Draaisma, a renowned memory specialist, here focuses on memory in later life. Writing with eloquence and humor, he explains neurological phenomena without becoming lost in specialist terminology. His book is reminiscent of Oliver Sacks's work, and not coincidentally this volume includes a long interview with Sacks, who speaks of his own memory changes as he entered his sixties. Draaisma moves smoothly from anecdote to research and back, weaving stories and science into a compelling description of the terrain of memory. He brings to light the "reminiscence effect," just one of the unexpected pleasures of an aging memory.

    The author writes reassuringly about forgetfulness and satisfyingly dismantles the stubborn myth that mental gymnastics can improve memory. He presents a convincing case in favor of the aging mind and urges us to value the nostalgia that survives as recollection, appreciate the intangible nature of past events, and take pleasure in the consolation of razor-sharp reminiscing.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19852-2
    Subjects: Psychology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The longest stage
    (pp. 1-12)

    It is no easy thing to tell a person openly that he or she is old. Other people are old, even if they happen to be contemporaries of yours. And if you say of people that they are old, then it will inevitably be because of some deficiency or failing. A person has difficulty walking, fails to follow the conversation properly, cannot stand any commotion – you can tell that person is getting old. You will never hear anyone remark: ‘He said such wise things this evening; he’s really beginning to get old.’ There are plenty of sayings about the...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Forgetful
    (pp. 13-32)

    Beneath the ascent and descent of the ‘Ages of Man’ we could trace a curve showing what is known in developmental psychology as the ‘parabolic pattern’. This refers to the notion that the time between babyhood and early adulthood is marked by a growth and refinement of our mental and cognitive skills, which takes place in a rapid succession of stages and sensitive periods. The curve showing this pattern is said to reach a peak, after which those same skills, each at its own pace, decline and deteriorate. This perspective on development, the declining part at least, has been superseded...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The forgetfulness market
    (pp. 33-54)

    How many kinds of memory are there? Most psychologists are satisfied with the answer ‘many, very many’, but Endel Tulving – a key figure on the editorial boards of specialist journals on the subject of memory – decided to count them. His answer was 256.¹ Tulving began his project almost as a joke, but looking at the whole inventory you find yourself involuntarily impressed by the number of dimensions a memory has. Time is one of them. Storage can last anywhere from milliseconds to a lifetime. In the iconic memory, visual stimuli are retained for a fraction of a second...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Reminiscences
    (pp. 55-86)

    In the Spanish novelLos disparos del cazador(The Shots of the Hunter), Rafael Chirbes introduces his readers to Carlos Ciscar, a former building contractor in Madrid.¹ Ciscar is in his seventies and a widower. His daughter died young and he is estranged from his son. He lives with a faithful servant, Ramón, in a large house that has become increasingly empty. Many of his friends have died, the places where he always liked to spend time have either changed beyond recognition or lost their attraction for him. Since breaking his hip he has had difficulty walking. He needs help...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The joy of calling up memories
    (pp. 87-98)

    Elderly people, wrote Aristotle, ‘live by memory rather than by hope; for what is left to them of life is but little as compared with the long past; and hope is of the future, memory of the past. This, again, is the cause of their loquacity; they are continually talking of the past, because they enjoy remembering it’.¹ The quotation comes from hisRhetoric: good rhetoricians must have a feeling for what is going on in their listeners’ heads, whether or not they happen to be old. Anyone turning to this passage in the hope of finding something more encouraging...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The good son: A conversation with Oliver Sacks
    (pp. 99-116)
    Oliver Sacks and Draaisma

    Anyone starting to write an autobiography will see memories as the raw material available to work on. But the motive for writing an autobiography often seems to arise from the precise opposite: memories that work on the writer.

    ‘In 1993, approaching my sixtieth birthday’, wrote Oliver Sacks, looking back on the writing of his autobiographyUncle Tungsten, ‘I started to experience a curious phenomenon – the spontaneous, unsolicited rising of early memories into my mind, memories which had lain dormant for upwards of fifty years. Not merely memories, but frames of mind, thoughts, atmospheres, and passions associated with them –...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Wisdom in hindsight
    (pp. 117-127)

    Memories are about the past. Whether you are thinking back to a reprimand you received from a teacher forty years ago or trying to recall what happened last night, memories refer to something that lies behind you. And because the past is fixed once and for all – what’s done is done – if you notice that a memory has changed, then you will have a natural tendency to regard it as unreliable. This is all too easy to explain: we see memories as recordings of what we experienced, as things we have entered in a register. If discrepancies emerge...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The nostalgia factory
    (pp. 128-144)

    Shortly after the Second World War, Lyckele de Jong from Oudeschoot in the Dutch province of Friesland emigrates to New Zealand to build a new life for himself. As he is leaving, his father slips a pair of Fenland speed skates into his bag: if there are streams in that distant country or stretches of flooded land and it starts to freeze, he says, you’ll go crazy if you don’t have any skates. One Sunday in July, in the middle of the New Zealand winter, Lyckele wakes up to a frozen world. The sago palms are covered in hoar frost....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 145-151)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 152-152)
  14. Index
    (pp. 153-158)