English, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 2013


Cultural Critique (winter 2013) 83.


Copyright 2013, University of Minnesota. Used by permission. Manuscript copy, 37 p.


I would like to propose here is precisely the invention of a relation to history and the public sphere of sociality that deconstructs the trauma/nostalgia opposition. The theoretical goal is to separate concrete narrative forms from actual political contents. It follows from the previous point that it might be possible to conceive of historical moments or concrete rhetorical situations in which we need to rely on nostalgic rather than traumatic narratives in order to imagine progressive political change. In these situations, the political task could be the development of a certain “critical nostalgia” that does not try to replace trauma as a master trope of historical understanding. I would like to show here that the deconstruction of the trauma/nostalgia opposition can make it possible for us to counteract the modernist vision of the future as a therapeutic utopia (by insisting on the fact that the past exceeds our narratives of suffering), to thwart the kind of postmodernist nostalgia that turns the past into a homogenized resource of empty textual surfaces, and to uncover unfulfilled possibilities in the past that might reactivate radically new possibilities in the present.

In order to provide some historical substance to these theoretical observations, I will examine here the opening picture of a book of photographs edited by Reg Gadney, entitled Cry Hungary! Uprising 1956 (published in 1986), which commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the Hungarian revolution. I will interpret the photograph as an allegory of the birth of the revolutionary subject marked by an indelible gesture. But since the allegory narrates an essentially unnarratable event, my focus will be the catachrestical naming of freedom as it is inscribed by the photograph in different affective economies: the traumatic and the nostalgic.