In Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa after the Cold War, Charles Piot works to re-conceptualize the theories of globalization and postcolonialism in relation to his study and experience of Togo. Piot draws on several theorists including Agamben, Bayart, Hardt and Negri and Mbembe. This book, as Piot states in the introduction, “is about a moment in history, it is also about a mode of theorizing” (7). The time period examined here is from the end of the Cold War in 1989 to the present (2009). The majority of the text deals with the switch in the 1990s when the power of the dictator was replaced by the power of the church. It is through the church that people are able to visualize the future, the globalized. He examines Togo’s shift from past which haunts the present, and how that forms new perceptions of the future. The future in many regards is seen as the global. This relationship between the global and the local is a prominent theme within this book. Piot also does an excellent job of giving examples of individuals’ stories that relate and give a personal touch to the subjects discussed. Togo in this sense is characterized by hybridizations of culture and politics.
There are two major questions that Piot attempts to answer: Can Togo preserve some traditions while still moving towards the modern or is it necessary to abandon the past? And what place does Togo take in a globalized world? Piot does an in depth analysis of Togo in several areas in order to answer these questions. These areas of evaluation include: the state, the church, green card visa lottery (“fantasy of exile”), witchcraft (showing local and global tensions), and development (or rather “arrested development”). In his discussion of the lottery, Piot understands this as a major cultural event and something that is getting harder to win. He gives an example of an entrepreneur named Kodjo and his process through the lottery with all three of his wives. Witchcraft is also an interesting area of discussion. While this may seem to suggest a more traditional state, witchcraft as this book explains it is actually a concept of the postmodern, and as something that challenges beliefs as well as escalating panic in tension between the local and global. As the title suggests, the Togolese have this “nostalgia for the future” without really knowing what the future holds or how to get there. However, they do know that they are in many ways tired of the past and giving in to the hope of the future.
The structure of this book includes a great overview in the introduction and is separated after three chapters by “Mise en Scene,” basically introducing the second half of the book. I found this text to be very easy to follow and well organized even with the many topics Piot takes on. He also takes on a great task of re-conceptualizing theory to fit the intercut themes of a country and its individuals. This is most prominent in his last chapter “The Death of a Culture,” where he suggests an end to history by new ways of looking at temporality and spatiality. He discusses the terms “noncontinuous temporality” (break from the past) and “re-temporalizations” (rescaling of the spatial) to describe the present state of Togo. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in theory. Even for those who have not studied any of the topics I’ve mentioned above, I would still recommend this work. Because of Piot’s personal experience in Togo and his experience as a professor, his expertise and passion for teaching is transparent in Nostalgia for the Future.