What do you call wanting something that can no longer happen?
November 6, 2006 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Is there a word for missing something that hasn't happened? Yearning for a future that can no longer come to fruition? Extra bonus points if there's something in another language (especially Ancient Greek!).
posted by sam and rufus to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Meatbomb at 7:00 AM on November 6, 2006

forgot the link - disappointment, see the fourth entry.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:01 AM on November 6, 2006

Not exactly what you want, but retrofuturism comes close, at least as applied to visual art and design. The Wikipedia entry on retro-futurism is comprehensive but seems over-broad.
posted by ardgedee at 7:02 AM on November 6, 2006

In one of the Travis McGee books, a character defiines this emotiion as "homesickness for a place that doesn't exist."
posted by Phred182 at 7:25 AM on November 6, 2006

posted by bluejayk at 7:35 AM on November 6, 2006

Much of Baudelaire's poetry deals with this experience, especially "À une passante:"
A flash . . . then night!--O lovely fugitive,
I am suddenly reborn from your swift glance;
Shall I never see you till eternity?

Somewhere, far off! Too late! never, perchance!
Neither knows where the other goes or lives;
We might have loved, and you knew this might be!
In his much-cited critique of Baudelaire in his much-cited Illuminations, Walter Benjamin calls this "love at last sight:"
In a widow's veil, mysteriously and mutely borne along by the crowd, an unknown woman comes into the poet's field of vision. What this sonnet communicates is simply this: Far from experiencing the crowd as an opposed, antagonistic element, this very crowd brings to the city dweller the figure that fascinates. The delight of the urban poet is love--not at first sight, but at last sight. (169)
posted by ChasFile at 7:48 AM on November 6, 2006

in logic circles these scenarios are called "counterfactuals."
posted by garfy3 at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2006

OED suggests "wistful" has the meaning of "mournfully expectant".

But really, here is your definition, via TS Eliot:

... the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.
You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
When the train starts, and the passengers are settled
To fruit, periodicals and business letters
(And those who saw them off have left the platform)
Their faces relax from grief into relief
To the sleepy rhythm of a hundred hours.
Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left the station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future is before us'.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
'Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging:
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death" - that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
posted by Rumple at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've heard the Portuguese saudade, the 'blues' behind fado and morna, described as "a longing for what can never be."
posted by ellanea at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2006

Dashed hopes.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2006

"We are all homesick for places we've never been."
Carson McCullers
posted by nasreddin at 9:59 AM on November 6, 2006

Anticipatory grief is mourning for someone who hasn't died yet. If you're talking about out-and-out sadness, and not just nostalgia for an alternate future, it might be a relevant concept.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:08 AM on November 6, 2006

Might come across as a bit of a fan boy here but the English bamd St Etienne have made a 20 year career on trying to evoke that exact feeling. “I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come.”
posted by merocet at 12:59 PM on November 6, 2006

regret (scroll down to American Heritage entry; see noun, 2nd def.)
posted by rob511 at 6:45 PM on November 6, 2006

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