I have always been suspicious of nostalgia. It's an emotion indulged in only by people who stand a safe distance from the past. At best it trivializes events, at worst, it distorts them all out of proportion.
It is nostalgia that turns the stunning pain of the Waltons. It turns World War II into a good ol' buddy bootcamp. It turns the pimples and miseries of adolescence into the possiblities and hope of youth. It even turns the thundering dullness of the '50s into the fun of The Fonz.
I am equally suspicious of instant revivals, of critical retrospectives of the immediate past, because we seem to cannibalize our history, gobbling it up as fast as we live it.
Like television commentators, we keep trying to find the meaning and Significance of events that are still in process. We sacrifice perpective for the play-by-play, when we should insist on a generation gap between current events and history.
Because of all these prejudices, I have been sitting here braced. This is the 10th anniversary of the Class of 1968, and I am sure that we are in for another dose of '60s Nostalgia and '60s Critism.
There will be ,of course, another batch of I-told-you-so articles penned by people who holdan eternal grudge by people who hold an eternal grudge against the '60s, as if the decade were a hostila neighbour.
They are the ones who stiff out the former rebels and bleat loudly whenever they find one mated or rooted. They declare that the '60s revolutionaries are '70s reactionaries because they now live on their ground rather than underground.
There will also be The Faithful, whose eyes still glaze over with fond memories of the good old days when people sang protest songs on the floor ofsome college president's office. They remember the camaraderie and forget pettiness and power-tripping. They remember the exitement and forget the fear.
They insist that the '60s will rise again and that people are just, as Carly Simon sings,"playing possum, keeping a low profile."
Well, I was never really a '60s buff. You could pick a better year than 1968 out of a hat. Through those years, I retrained a primal fear of crowds, a linguistic distrust of slogans, a self-consciousness about pickets and an aversion to people who continually chose excess over reason.
I am equally unhappy with those who gloat over the disillusionment of ideals and seek only vindication from history. They seem to regard the 60s as a miniskirt that revealed only the ugly knee-caps of America. They often think of social concerns as a passing fad, something people will (or should) eventually get over.
But now I find that, despite all my reservations, I turn nostalgic about 1968 when faced with the present class of 1978. Perhaps nostalgia was always triggered more by the present than the past, but I would, if I could, merchandise two pieces of memorabilia - a small corner of the 60s market - to the people who were 11 or 12 just 10 years years ago: energy and moral conviction.
If I could take the moral conviction and separate it carefully - like an egg yolk - from righteousness and intolerance, I would also feed that as a class dinner to those seniors who don't believe they can make a difference, who don't even believe there is a difference.
I see on campuses a lot of students who, as John Fowles once wrote, "boast of (their) genius for compromise, which is really refusal to choose." Others congratulate themselves for a realism that is really pessimism.
So, surprisingly, I find myself extracting from the 60s - carefully, with a tweezer - precisely those characteristics that seem lacking in the 70s. If nostalgia is a mental pilgrimage to the past in search of what we miss in the present, I guess I have actually become nostalgic.