Abstract: In 2011, Bulgaria became the latest country from the former Soviet bloc to create a Museum of Socialist Art. The Museum offers an opportunity to analyze the function of post-communist nostalgia in the production of passive collective subjectivities from a psychoanalytically informed rhetorical perspective. In particular, the Museum’s rhetoric suggests a productive dialectical contradiction through which nostalgia can operate to both stir desire for the past (communism) and to silence critical engagement with that past, all the while justifying the present social and political order (neo-liberal capitalism). To explain the constitution of an ambivalent discursive-affective relation between “the people” and a certain interpretation of the past, I draw on Slavoj Žižek’s understanding of melancholy as originating not from the loss of the object but from the withdrawal of the object cause of desire. The Museum’s rhetoric–as well as the broader official discourse within which it is embedded–suggests that enjoyment of the communist symbols is simultaneously enabled (through their physical presence) and prohibited (“we should remember the past, so as not to repeat it”). The potential discursive effects of this prohibition are also similar to the mechanism described in a diverse body of empirical research on celebrity death and nostalgia.
Keywords: nostalgia, rhetoric, psychoanalysis, collective subjectivity, socialist museums, Bulgaria.
Rhetoric and Communications E-journal, Issue 13, July 2012, rhetoric.bg/, ISSN 1314-4464