What is it about?

How do we remember our home? Which things do we (wilfully or not) leave out while doing so? These questions play a central part in Samuel D. Hunter’s 2019 play Greater Clements, which, in the playwright’s own words, deals with “the toxicity of nostalgia”, the focus of this article. Set in a fictional town in Northern Idaho, the play focuses on members of two communities that indulge in but are also victimised by nostalgia. First of all, the miners who are currently unemployed due to the effects of deindustrialisation but mostly unwilling to acknowledge the toll their line of work took on human health and the environment. Secondly, Clements’s Japanese American residents, still reeling from the trauma of wartime internment and excluded for the town’s memories of its formerly glorious past. The theoretical framework of this article combines Svetlana Boym’s notion of “reflective” and “restorative nostalgia” with Jennifer K. Ladino’s ideas about “counter-nostalgia”.

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Why is it important?

While the playwright set out the write a play about nostalgia’s “toxicity”, my analysis actually shows a more complex picture. Even though both the miners and Japanese Americans are victims of nostalgia, it also opens up a space for critical reflection, for a different engagement with the past. For the text’s younger character, counter-nostalgia allows her to imagine a composite home, spanning different cultures and time zones.


I love writing about political theatre and I felt that this play was timely in that Mohsin Hamid, one of the authors I quote, mentions that reactionary political projects like Brexit or the Trump campaign were “nostalgia-driven”. It seemed like a good idea to contemplate what exactly nostalgia is. I thought it was fascinating to find out that many people tend to think of nostalgia as inherently conservative but that, as Alastair Bonnett points out, it resides even within the future-oriented left.

Laura Michiels
Erasmushogeschool Brussel

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This page is a summary of: A more perfect dissolution, English Text Construction, December 2022, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/etc.00055.mic.
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