In Transparent Things, Nabokov suggests that if the future were more concrete, if we could to some extent see what’s coming, at least see some progress in the present, we wouldn’t be so seduced by the pull of the past.
But, for Nabokov, the problem is that the future is a thing of bodyless speculation, just a ‘figure of speech’, mere ‘spectres of thought’.
Unlike the past.
The past has concrete weight, the gravity of which can pull the unwary through the constantly regenerating and insubstantial present. The present is but a thin veneer, a transparency, through which the light of the past shines bright, dragging your attention forever backwards. Looking to the past is both unavoidably necessary and yet graspingly seductive. You need to understand the past to fully appreciate the present and so move willingly forward to the future, but the past’s gravity pulls, it tugs, and it turns so easily into the secure, comforting, unremitting grasp of nostalgia. Staying in the present is a tricky thing to do.
Not that a spot of nostalgia is necessarily a bad thing. Obviously, in the analysis of splendid chaps like Franco Berardi in After the Future, nostalgia has become the inevitable result of the ‘slow cancellation of the future’ by first cultural post-modernisation and then neoliberal post-Fordian capitalism. Or whatever. For Berardi (or more popularly, Mark Fisher in his absolutely fabulous Ghosts of my Life,) nostalgia is all we are culturally capable of now; modernist dreams of progress have been stifled, the new can no longer be created, and we are either haunted by the future we all longed for that can no longer be and so find ourselves permanently dissatisfied and disgruntled, or we wallow in the never-ending recycled nostalgia. But Nabokov was not necessarily addressing the ‘bigger picture’ in Transparent Things. He was discussing the effects of the pull of the past at a personal level. And I suspect that this is maybe the area that Foresteppe is working in on his excellent new album, Maeta, on the inestimable Eilean Rec.
Foresteppe is Egor Klochikhin who grew up in, and indeed still lives in, Berdsk in Siberia, and it is from the Siberian forest-steppe that he says he draws his inspiration. This beautiful work is a dreamy, wobbly, woozy collection of tape loops, piano, acoustic guitar, metallophone, whistle, melodica, mandolin, and field recordings. Gentle tape noise, repeating and wandering melodies, a touch of children’s instruments in all their tinkling glory. All recorded and looped. It sounds as if it would be an album to which you could easily drift off into reverie, and to some extent it is. And to some extent, it isn’t. It won’t let you. It demands attention.
Sure, it slurs and blurs, like childhood memories. With the melodies, the instrumentation, it’s the past trying to drag you into a nostalgia for what we are imagining of Klochikhin’s forest-steppe childhood. The ancient melodies of the tape-loops speak, very sedately, very seductively, of the past. A siren call. The very techniques of the music’s construction tell you; you are listening to the very past you are imagining.
But the production ticks and tricks are also the future, pulling you up short as you descend too far into the past. Tapes stretch then snap back. It trips you, slaps you stumbling back to the present, forces you to concentrate on the here and now, forces you to hear, now. The past, present and future, all equally present.
It’s all slightly disconcerting, disorientating. And very beautiful. Hauntingly so. And perhaps that is the point. The past haunts us here in the present. The past never let’s go, no matter what the future offers: imagined, actual or never to be. But we must remember we live in the now. Never let the past drag us under.
But a little nostalgia can’t hurt, can it?