“Reality isn’t what it used to be,” I said recently to a friend. We laughed softly together at this statement, absurd as it was accurate. I’m nostalgic by nature, but its wistful lens usually takes years to cloud my vision, gradually softening unflattering HD recollections into a sepia-toned past. It was fitting that we had this conversation in a bar-restaurant renowned (to us) for 1980s and 90s inspired Pandora stations, walls cluttered with the eclectic ephemera of old Life magazine covers, a black velvet painting of Elvis, and (these days) graffiti. We were sitting in the past to mourn the past. But the past we were mourning had gone by only three weeks earlier—that is, before the presidential election.
“When the real is no longer what it was,” writes French theorist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation, “nostalgia assumes its full meaning.” I felt the full import of this statement on November 9th. Suspended in an anti-gravitational chamber of disbelief, I had been dispossessed, violently stripped of a reality that I’d known only one day before. Adrift in this altered state of grief-tinged incredulity, I remembered a former version of myself—a college senior sitting before yet another kitschy bar backdrop, that time adorned with bamboo and “Polynesian” iconography. Perched at a small table with my roommate and a graduate student in philosophy, I sipped from a green Tiki god as our new acquaintance discussed his dissertation.
“I can’t believe it’s raining,” the PhD student had said. He went on to point out the absurdity of the statement, which is always made by someone who finds herself outside in the rain. Moreover, he tried to explain the philosophical conundrum it presents—despite the obvious absurdity of such a statement, it isn’t contradictory because the speaker’s disbelief is also true.
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