What is Apocalyptic Nostalgia?

We sat down with Jonathon Engelien to unpack the meaning behind the term Apocalyptic Nostalgia. While we have known Jonathon for years and have developed an understanding alongside of him, we thought that an interview would be helpful for those who have not gotten such exposure. Here is that interview:

* * * * *

 

Alright, welcome to this interview, which is being held in your basement.

Yes! Thank you, what a pleasure to be here. I wish we had a way of showing our sarcasm.

 

Yes, always a struggle...so it’s completely obvious that Norde Tribe is setting up this almost ‘mock’ interview to make a way for us to discuss your ideas, but what’s the first thing you want to say?

Well, what I first want to say is, hello! Then next is to say that this is going to be extremely fun, and I know I’m just going to ramble on and on, so I hope that I make some sense.

 

I’m sure you will, but let’s jump right in. What exactly is Apocalyptic Nostalgia?

Can I start this interview by saying that I can’t really give you a full answer?

 

Sure, it’s your interview after all, but what do you mean by that?

So I’ve tried really hard to come up with a definition and have spent many hours rewriting phrases over and over without coming to a complete conclusion. But the ‘definition’ that makes the most sense to me is that Apocalyptic Nostalgia is ‘the comforting but painful longing for both past sensibilities and a destructive future, as a means of understanding as well as coping with the present moment.’

 

Okay, so how is that relevant to what you’re trying to do?

I mean, I feel like it’s relevant because it’s a feeling. I don’t want to place it in realm of worldview, but I believe it captures a moment. It is a way for me to express the complexities of life. Just the two words by themselves are so rich in describing the human experience. For example, the word apocalyptic is fear and an ending. It’s an end and a destruction of what we know. I feel like it goes back through all of human history and thought describing the limit of ourselves. This term makes us think about the end, makes us realize our humanness. It shows us that we’re finite and scared, and that there’s something beyond ourselves.

And now the same is true about Nostalgia. Nostalgia is another emotion, but that of longing. For a while I thought it was a content and happy emotion, but really I discovered it’s painful and sad. Nostalgia is the desire to return to something… something lost, and I almost wonder if the thing we feel we’ve lost has ever been with us before. Nostalgia is also comforting and to have it means we’re human, and I feel like when I feel it, I’m emotionally breathing. It’s when we cherish something we experienced, and we can move beyond our physical natures to remember it. So to make a long answer short, the two words go together so complexly that I’m fueled by them. Together they create a moment where we fear and long for something greater. It’s like the moment when we think to ourselves: “I don’t want this to end,” or when we long for something to be complete and make sense.

 

Why do you feel the need for things to be ‘complete and make sense?’

Well, I guess, for me, I’ve spent pretty much my entire existence on this earth wondering what the meaning behind it all is. I grew up in a small city in rural Central Wisconsin to a town where the paper mill unemployed nearly half the town when it went under. My parents got divorced, they still don’t talk, I dealt with internal struggles, depression, dissatisfaction, and then grew up to the internet, where, if you ask anyone, the biggest chaos of ideas, experiences, and opinions that the world has ever seen preside there. So at the end of the day, I’m usually stuck with that existential question, what’s the point of all of this.

 

So would you say you’ve found meaning? Or do you find meaning in Apocalyptic Nostalgia as an attitude, if not a completed narrative? Is that enough?

I mean, I claim to have meaning. I became a Christian in college in search of this meaning. And not to get distracted in speech that many people will get turned off by, but meaning for me has been found when I lose myself. To be human--and I mean the most human, not just biologically, is when you lose your humanity in something else. I found that experience in Christ as a Christian, and I’m honest when I say that...others would disagree. I’ve had this thought that humans have lost a sense of spirituality in our calculated, digital/post enlightenment/post-industrial/post-modern world. So my ideas behind Apocalyptic Nostalgia are spiritual ones, they’re both a fear and a longing, and together they are a moment (and I’m going to keep coming back to this idea of a moment), but a moment for me to experience the otherness to our nature. The world is too complex, to be human is too complex, and all the facets of our identities, our experiences, are simply too complex, but I seek to understand them. So that’s where I put my meaning, where my purpose comes from.

 

So you're saying that losing our humanity allows us to become human, isn’t that counterintuitive though?

Exactly! It makes no sense logically, but intuitively it makes all the sense in the world, and then for a tiny minute you can just breath and feel all of your fears leaving you. Ha, but then I just lose it in the next minute and then I’m right back to being the self-defeating, depressed, and insecure person that I always am. But really, embracing the complexities of humanity--our emotions, our intellect, our goals, dreams, aspirations, and also our suffering, our pains, our defeats, failures, and shortcomings, our evil--embracing all of these things in constructive ways is definitive to making us become more human.

 

Alright, Apocalyptic Nostalgia, is it a fictional world? Or a set of ideas? Do you create art and writings and then just label it all as Apocalyptic Nostalgia?

Well I make the ideas into a fictional world if that answers your question.

 

Sort of, can you expand on that process?

Ok, so, ideas are just ideas unless you create them into something physical. The thought occurred to me at one time that art was the physical embodiment of ideas, experiences, and thoughts. Good art embraces its physicality and becomes an embodiment of something else, something metaphysical (and some artists would be appalled that I said that, but their existence is part of the conversation). I realized that art is the fusion of physical and metaphysical realities, and humans are the same way. We’re physical beings who think and act by ideas, ethics, and spiritual sensibilities, so we too are at the crux of both the physical world as well as the metaphysical world. So sorry, to again make a long answer short, it was natural for me to create physical objects, but also to create the metaphysical world around them, both a fictional “physical” world as well as a set of ideas.

 

You take on a lot of popular culture by linking your artworks and media to Apocalyptic Fiction, but your works don’t seem to directly reference pop culture. Instead, you link your works to local or regional motifs, can you talk about the purpose behind that?

Sure. Well, I just want to say I love all of the pop culture in Apocalyptic Fiction--everything from The Hunger Games, to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, to TV like Revolution or Falling Skies (even though that’s aliens), but as much as I consume those things, and create artworks and short stories within the Apocalyptic Fantasy genre, my work really has nothing to do with pop culture. What I’ve thought through is just the idea that thinking about living in a post-apocalyptic world is a way to determine the reality of this contemporary life.

 

Can you expand on that further?

Yeah, um...my stories might be escapism, but they are really just earnestly trying to figure things out. They embrace an attitude of apathy as well as sincerity in their context of a post-contemporary world, and like I said earlier, I use them to create a way for me to think about meaning and purpose to existence. It’s a way for me to connect with all sorts of people throughout all of history. Take the stone age peoples. They lived in tribes and bands and struggled for existence, struggled in the sense of daily survival. But they created all sorts of objects and cave paintings that reflect a very spiritual and supernatural desire in their world to have their needs met. So it’s just a thought of mine, that maybe this spirituality, or this prayerfulness is something that is inherently human. But what I know is that the longing of my heart connects me to these cave peoples who longed for survival and sustenance.

I feel like I’m just talking on and on and getting off the track of your questions.

 

Not at all, I think your answers have addressed the questions as well as pointing to larger ideas. What do you want people to take away from your art?

I’ll go back to the idea of the moment. What I want people to experience from my art and fictions is a moment to think beyond their lives. They should think about the past as well as the future, and do so in a way that jeopardizes who they currently are, but then work to reconstruct their existence. I’d love to have a moment for all of us to be quiet, and also finished--at the edge of who they are, but then find hope, hope that the other exists, or that there’s something to lose yourself in.

 

And a final question, as you look toward the future, what do you hope to accomplish with your art in the context of Apocalyptic Nostalgia?

Financial independence. Just kidding, wouldn’t it be great to just be able to make art and write stories all day long?

Ha, of course!

But in all seriousness, I just want to understand it. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface with all of my ideas, and I just want to begin to share them with other people. I want to evoke people into caring deeper about themselves and their environments, and feel the need to self reflect and see where their meaning is. I hope to get bolder with embracing complexity and paradoxical ideas. I’m not saying that Apocalyptic Nostalgia should be terms for a way of life, but I hope that I can create something where the words just become tools to dig deeper in what it means to be human.

 

Interesting…I think you’ve brought up a lot of larger ideas and concepts to think about, thank you for your time!

Yes, thank you as well! I can talk forever and ever about these things, and I’m happy this worked out to create the blog post this way.

 

 

Thank you for reading this interview, and we hope it stirred lots of questions and further ideas!!! Make sure to leave a comment below, or email us your thought on Apocalyptic Nostalgia and your personal take on it.


Thanks and until next time.

 

 

* * * * *

 


Jonathon Engelien

    I grew up in the valley of Central Wisconsin, in an area straddling a post-industrial world and seemingly untamed wilderness.  The harsh winters of the Upper Midwest, the liturgical display of seasons, and the economic and social decay of the region fostered my interest in survivalism and post-apocalyptic imagery. 

    I create in the framework of an idea I call Apocalyptic Nostalgia. I defined it as: The comforting and painful longing for the past and a destructive future, both as a means of understanding as well as coping with the present.  My artwork converges both the realities of nostalgic, comforting materials, with harsh, apocalyptic, and yet to happen sensibilities.  My artwork blurs the lines between fiction and reality.  It offers a setting for the viewer’s suspensions of disbelief, with the goal of intrinsic thought and meditation.  The work straddles the real and the unreal as it pretends to exist and come out of a post-apocalyptic world.

    Apocalyptic Nostalgia relates or depicts the natural world and/or human experience in it.  It is concerned deeply in paradoxes, with ideas such as survival, human endeavor, camaraderie, identity, individualism, community, vastness, intimacy, longing, rest, contentment, loss, safety, danger, hope, hopelessness, future, past, myth, reality, sacred, secular, longevity and destruction.