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Mourning, Owning, Owing
Abstract

This essay examines the relation between psychoanalysis and law by arguing that property is allied to trauma and lays a foundation for individuals and communities to recognize themselves in its wake. During the twentieth century, property became less a barometer of happiness or aspiration than an index of bereavement. Modernist fiction records property as a source of grief, disappointment, dispossession, and guilt. Against this backdrop, struggles over property can be grasped not as symptoms of aggressive instincts, as Freud maintains in Civilization and its Discontents, but as measures of loss along the lines described in "Mourning and Melancholia." Building on the connection between property and loss, the essay examines owning and owing, inheritance and indebtedness, in Walter Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library" and James Joyce's Ulysses. These texts illustrate how property can be understood both as a condition and a process. As a condition, it aims to freeze time and produce nostalgia, while as a dynamic and unpredictable process, it can inaugurate a narrative that resists the possibility of stasis and releases an emotional current not of nostalgia but of grief—and ultimately, indebtedness.