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  • Without Apparent Occasion:Recent Research on Melancholy

This review essay discusses recent Anglophone research on melancholy from both historical and cultural-critical traditions. I argue that these works offer a way for reconceptualizing early modern melancholy as a problem of accounting for passions and motives. The early modern archive of melancholy can help us articulate anti-depressive melancholy as a social problematic rather than merely a personal affliction.

melancholy, Robert Burton, Sigmund Freud, depression, early modern medicine

The Promise of Happiness
by Sara Ahmed
Duke University Press, 2010. 328p., $26.95.
The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance
by Drew Daniel
Fordham University Press, 2013. 328p., ill., $32.
Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism
by Jonathan Flatley
Harvard University Press, 2008. 272p., $58.50.
The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context
by Angus Gowland
Cambridge University Press, 2006. 358p., $51.99.
From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression
by Clark Lawlor
Oxford University Press, 2012. 256p., ill., $24.99.
Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading The Anatomy of Melancholy
by Mary Ann Lund
Cambridge University Press, 2010. 236p., $46.99.
Moody Minds Distempered: Essays on Melancholy and Depression
by Jennifer Radden
Oxford University Press, 2009. 208p., $82.
Melancholy and the Care of the Soul: Religion, Moral Philosophy and Madness in Early Modern England
by Jeremy Schmidt
Ashgate, 2007. 232p., $57.95
L'encre de la mélancolie
by Jean Starobinski
Seuil, 2012. 672p., €26.

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Melancholy has never had a stable referent, competing with love, freedom, and stress for the laurel of Most Flaccid Designator. Though its name derives from the Greek for black bile, μέλαινα χoλή, in its long history it was not only one of the four humors, but also a temperament, an illness, an affectation, a mood, a cosmological principle. Its protean variety poses significant problems for those scholars who have wished to wrest away its secrets. A representative anecdote: the magisterial work of Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl, and later Raymond Klibansky began as a translation into English of Panofsky's 1923 monograph on Dürer's Melencolia I. To more fully explain the findings of this initial research, they attempted to trace the history of Saturn's connection with melancholy and the doctrine of the temperaments. In doing this, they were forced "to abandon the framework of the monograph on Dürer's engraving."1 The work that resulted after years of research and collaborative effort, interrupted by war, exile, and the death of Saxl in 1948, was Saturn and Melancholy, subtitled Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art. Caveat lector: here be dragons.

If melancholy, the subject like the substrate, is thick and obscure, perhaps it is surprising that the last decade has seen much renewed interest in [End Page 314] the topic. Indeed, even Dürer's famous print is receiving new attention in Mitchell Merback's most recent book.2 Doubtless this has been in part motivated by a desire to inflect the contemporary medical and popular discourses on depression. In March 2017, the World Health Organization named depression as the leading cause of illness globally, estimating over three hundred million sufferers worldwide.3 It is no surprise that historians and scholars may feel moved to answer a public asking "How did this all begin?" We see this impulse most clearly in Clark Lawlor's work, where melancholia is a phase in a "history of depression." His work is one part of a broader research effort, Before Depression, including several scholars at the Universities of Northumbria and Sunderland, funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. Yet, as Jennifer Radden argues, while emphasizing the historical continuity between melancholia and depression can illuminate certain broad similarities (she identifies four), it eclipses the more interesting and often profound differences in the meanings and uses of these terms across eras. In late antiquity, melancholia was a disease of the imagination; the Renaissance humanists gave it an altar in their cult of genius; in psychoanalysis it is a diagnosis of self-reproach and mourning behaviors as originating from an unconscious psychic loss. While melancholia certainly must feature in any attempt to historicize depression, its interest is not at all exhausted by its ancillary role in the present unfolding of epidemic depression.

How might we then respond to the present interest and anxiety around depressive affect without flattening historical difference into our own plane of immanence? What, if anything, can work on the archives of modern and early modern melancholy teach us about our own moment? The best of the recent literature on melancholy hold three concerns in common: the continuity of melancholia and its affines throughout history (including depression), the problematics of knowledge and social action in historical discourses on melancholy, and, perhaps counterintuitively, how melancholy has been and may yet be a mode of fellow-feeling and communal practice.

While these works' archives range from obscure pastoral literature to Bend It Like Beckham, this survey of the literature can nevertheless triangulate its archival references to two landmark texts. Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia" is one point on the far shore; Robert Burton's massive cento The Anatomy of Melancholy can serve as the anchor at port. Why [End Page 315] these two? The simple reason is that they are important citational linchpins in current scholarship. Sara Ahmed claims Freud's essay as the "classic point of reference"4 on melancholy. This is true of those scholars coming through critical theory and cultural studies readings of melancholia, where the concept became important in feminist and queer studies revisions of Lacanian psychoanalysis, as in the works of Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and Douglas Crimp.5 Much of this theorization concerns the status of loss, but "accounts of melancholic states reveal a greater emphasis on narcissistic concerns, loss, and themes of self-loathing, only after Freud's essay on mourning and melancholia."6 For scholars in early modern or Renaissance studies, Burton serves as the "classic reference"—or better, library of references. Drew Daniel argues in The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance that The Anatomy is an archive of all the previous views on melancholy that "sums up and completes the transmission of the melancholy archive from classical texts through its Ficinian continental renovation into the examining rooms of physicians and onto the public stages of English popular culture, at once crowning and closing a tradition."7 As suggested by the subtitle of Angus Gowland's book, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context, one need only to repatriate Burton to his contexts to discover whole worlds of Renaissance melancholy. Moreover, the potential correspondences across these texts are legion. The "neo-Freudian interpretations [tend] to portray melancholia as very widespread or even a universal propensity,"8 indicating a desire to generalize the insights developed in thinking about melancholy into an ersatz general anthropology. This sense of melancholia as something shared also appears in Burton, where he calls it an "inbred malady in every one of us." And there is a desire, if less pronounced, to see in early modern therapeutics "forerunners to modern psychology."9 Perhaps no one has [End Page 316] made a stronger claim for this than Jean Starobinski, the Swiss psychiatristturned-critic. He has written extensively on Burton (including penning a preface for Louis Evard's partial French translation), and though these writings cannot be called "recent" they have been lately collected in L'encre de la mélancolie, a volume of Starobinski's career-long inquiry into melancholy as at once a reservoir of a cultural imagination and a serious malady, traversing the diverse receptions of the idea from Galen to Ficino to commedia dell'arte, from Pinel and Esquirol to Baudelaire and Nerval. He reads Burton's book as a library and holds it to be "la Somme complète du sujet," the comprehensive account of the topic.10

Burton and Freud serve as a Janus of melancholy, both in that they preside over a renewal of the subject but also in the difference between their visions: Burton looked backwards where Freud looked ahead. Freud's work is a clinical description gesturing toward a highly original theoretical departure, while The Anatomy is a highly skeptical digest of all previous literature on the subject. Freud formulates the pathological nature of melancholia as an unconscious loss accompanied by self-reproach; Burton defines it in the traditional manner as "a kinde of dotage without feaver, having for his ordinary companions, feare, and sadnesse, without any apparant occasion."11 The psychoanalytic problematic treats melancholy as an unconscious loss of the individual, while we might understand the early modern formulation as lack, a failure of passion—and action—to accord with context. Burton claims all of humanity as his subject, while Freud scrupulously limits his observations to a few pathological cases. In this sense, Burton is the swan song of a motley discourse on melancholia before it is reorganized by psychiatric discourse, while Freud begins to reopen the artificially narrowed clinical view. We do not find a readymade continuity here. Rather, these Janus-faces serve as metonyms for a disjunction between two historical fermentations of interest around melancholy: baroque and modern. This disjunction is a boon, not a bane. The historical criticism that allows us to interrogate the meaning of this distance is precisely where we find the most exciting and original work today.

To illustrate this claim, it is worth pausing to examine how Burton and Freud may be read together. "Mourning and Melancholia," the last of Freud's metapsychological papers to appear in print, was published in [End Page 317] 1917. It is the only one of this series devoted to a single pathological condition. Freud was by no means instituting a diagnosis; if anything, he was dramatically revising a received psychiatric construct. Radden interprets Freud as bucking the diagnostic tendency to read pathology into a diseased faculty. Freud abandoned the distinctions between cognition and affection made by early nosologists like Pinel and Esquirol and intensified by Kraepelin (a crypto-Kantian in her analysis).12 Freud noted that no theoretical consensus on the nature or origin of melancholia had been reached; its "definition [Begriffsbestimmung] fluctuates even in descriptive psychiatry" and no arrangement of its "various forms" established a "single unity" with certainty.13 Radden hears in this a reflection of the earlier, prepsychiatric tradition, as in Burton's exasperated claim that Babel "never yielded such confusion of tongues as this Chaos of Melancholy doth variety of symptoms."14 Melancholia's clinical presentation oscillated between the somatic and the psychogenic; Freud confined his observations on the subject to those that were incontrovertibly cases of psychic origin. Like mourning, melancholia is the response to a loss of some libidinal attachment. The work [Arbeit] of mourning is the slow detachment from "each one of the memories and expectations in which the libido is bound to the object."15 However, in melancholia what is lost is unclear to observers and opaque to the patient: it is unconscious. This can be read as a qualification of the early modern formulation: melancholia is fear and sadness without consciousness of a cause.16

In his sensitive and original reading of Freud's essay in Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism, Jonathan Flatley locates the "key move" in Freud's articulation of two distinctive contributions to melancholic symptomatology: self-reproach and the abovementioned unconscious loss. These are part of the same psychic phenomenon; the criticism of the self is really a criticism of the ambivalently loved lost object [End Page 318] with which the subject is identified. Flatley argues that Freud's formulation of this problem—the "introjection" of the object into the ego—is at odds with his focus on "the withdrawal of the libido itself [in melancholia], suggesting that it is the emotional tie, or the energy that comprised that tie—and not the object as such—that has been imported."17 The contradiction results in dueling metaphors. In the essay, introjection is to be imagined as if "the shadow of the object falls upon the ego."18 When Freud treated melancholia in The Ego and the Id, he described this differently: "the character of the ego is a precipitate of abandoned object cathexes and . . . it contains the history of those object choices."19 Flatley argues that these two metaphors—shadow and precipitate—articulate two kinds of "melancholias." The first, depressive melancholia, is a "shadow play in which a certain portion of the ego has been marked in the shape of the lost object as darker than the rest." The shadow is really the libido that retains the outline of the lost cathexis in a negative form, sketched out by mourning pain: we know its shape by not finding it in all the old expected places. The ego "does not so much become the object as it comes to look like it, at least in its basic outline."20 The other, antidepressive melancholia, is not a simple semblance of the loss. Sensu stricto, a precipitate "is the result of a chemical process whereby the mixture of two solutions causes a new solid substance to be created, which appears to fall out of the solution."21 Playing out the psychic analogy, the new "substance" is the ego. This precipitate, a Geschichte of affective life, is like an archaeological site, making possible what Flatley calls an "affective mapping"—tracing the connections among this complex layering of personal histories and larger historical processes. Our nervous system itself contains an "anonymous collectivity."22 Melancholy, experienced as a loss, is like a shadow; as a precipitate, it is experienced as potential for inquiry and new forms of collectivity.

This precipitate of affective resonances is very much a feature of early modern reflection on melancholy. Burton, in the persona of Democritus Junior, tells us that he took up the theme of melancholy in order to relieve himself of the illness, marking an early example of Flatley's antidepressive [End Page 319] melancholia "in which one turns one's attention to melancholia precisely in order to avoid falling into a depression."23 His digressive inquiry into the history of melancholy begins as a personal quest to discover "the historicity of [his] affective life."24 Indeed, he tells us that he began to "write of Melancholy, by being busie to avoid melancholy."25 Mary Ann Lund argues that he imagined his book to have "direct curative effect" upon his readers, that is, for a community of fellow melancholics.26 Gowland sees this interest in the world-at-large as the most distinctive character of the work, making his "fundamental self-therapeutic procedure . . . not homeopathic introversion but allopathic diversion."27 The special suggestibility of the melancholic also had its dangers, as we see in Burton's fear that melancholically inclined readers could contract symptoms merely by reading about them: "Yet one Caution let mee give by the way to my present or future Reader, who is actually Melancholy, that hee read not the Symptomes or prognostickes in this following Tract, least by applying that which he reads to himselfe, aggravating, appropriating things generally spoken, to his owne person (as Melancholy men for the most part doe) hee trouble or hurt himselfe, and get in conclusion more harme than good."28 In Melancholy and the Care of the Soul: Religion, Moral Philosophy and Madness in Early Modern England, Jeremy Schmidt shows us that this concern for how melancholic discourse might affect the readers of a certain disposition was not peculiar to Burton. We find in other sources a similar fear about the transmission of discourse about melancholy with the transmission of melancholy itself. Take for instance the widely circulated literature on Francesco Speira, or "Francis Spira" as he was more commonly known in England, who was said to have despaired and taken his life after believing he sinned against the Holy Spirit. Richard Baxter reports that simply reading about his case "causeth or increaseth melancholy in many; the ignorant Author having described a plain melancholy, contracted by the trouble of sinning against Conscience, as if it were a damnable despair of a sound understanding."29 [End Page 320] Melancholy was recognized both as a fashionable posture and as a general problem, even an epidemic. He describes his "chiefe motives" for writing as "the generalitie of the Disease, the necessitie of the Cure, and the commodity of common good that will arise to all men by knowledge of it."30

But what kind of knowledge can be hoped for from this "rhapsody of rags" as Burton calls his own work? What can one know of melancholy at all, with its "hybrid status between substance and sham?"31 This question is keenly probed by Daniel in The Melancholy Assemblage. Rather than attempting to distinguish which parts of historical melancholy were "really" medical and which were "affected," Daniel argues that melancholy is an "assemblage" of signs, postures, symptoms, and materials that call forth a basic question concerning the range and possibility of an affect. Melancholy simply is the problem of its meaning. It is this problem that allows the early modern archive to illuminate our own moment, as Daniel deftly shows in his comparison of Isaac Oliver's portrait of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, recumbent in finery, both artificial and intimate, with Bas Jan Ader's I'm Too Sad to Tell You, a photographic self-portrait of the artist weeping, the title scrawled in pen across the image as if it were a postcard. The melancholic postures are "between convention and expression, comfortably occupying neither term,"32 both "addressing and refusing the viewer's participatory engagement and emotional solidarity."33 Daniel shows the fruitfulness of engaging this problematic with his ability to dramatize minutiae. His chapter on Hamlet is largely built around the dustiest area of Shakespeare studies: editorial querelles. He takes up the academic debate about whether the stage direction of [Aside] should be printed before Hamlet's first spoken line: "A little more than kin, and less than kind." But rather than become a partisan in this debate, he shows how the possibility of argument in utramque partem is metonymic of melancholic epistemology. For Daniel, Hamlet is making a specifically melancholic aside, "in that it is a speech marked as 'private,' but . . . it must be necessarily public, overheard, and shareable, precisely because melancholy as such abides in an interstitial diagnostic and discursive space between the private self and the social body."34 The aside as trope dramatizes the problematic of [End Page 321] melancholy—a "rhetorically staged interior" that "solicits interpretation" that, in the interminability of its analysis, frustrates the attribution of a distinct, socially legible motive to the other.

It is into this early modern problematic that Gowland guides us with much erudition, having performed the much-needed task in Burton studies of offering an analysis of Burton's contexts collated with the changes made across the six editions of his work. Gowland shows how the uncertain semiotics of passion traced by Daniel was imbricated in the early modern anxiety over dissimulation and its varied intellectual traditions. The division between "the ethical interior of the human being and his or her external behaviour" gave rise to the popularity of neo-Stoicism and Tacitism among Europe's intellectuals. Particularly important was Justus Lipsius's De Constantia, in which Machiavellian dissimulation is paradiastolically redescribed as a "'mixed' type of political prudence."35 Burton's rejection of this politics comes in his criticism of the "melancholic body politic." If his vision of utopia as described in "Democritus Junior to the Reader" is, as Gowland shows, largely based upon a reading of Botero and humanist moral philosophy, the inflection this takes in the commonplace Stoical metaphor of the body-politic-as-human-body is distinctive in its plurality of factors causing disturbance. While the principal cause might be in the corruption of the head—that is, rulers of state and their flatterers—the disturbances may also be an effect of geography, the diet of the people, or a lack of easy transportation. Burton wished for a moral reform of court, but he recognized that just as in his own experience of melancholy, one solution is almost always insufficient. England would also need to drain its bogs and drink less beer to achieve civic health.

If Burton imagined a utopia that would be free from melancholy, there is also a more positive image of melancholic union in his work: his readership. In Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading The Anatomy of Melancholy, Lund argues that Burton's text is written to involve "the reader in a process of cure within the work itself."36 Burton scholarship has long been moribund with its concerns over the question of the ordering of The Anatomy. Stanley Fish infamously dubbed it a "self-consuming artifact," launching a series of defenses of Burton's "tangled chain" as having a logical structure based upon Ramism, Galenism, the commonplacing tradition, or some other independent canon of arrangement.37 Lund stages a different reading by focusing on how the figure of the [End Page 322] melancholic reader serves as the method for Burton's madness. In his incessant citation of authorities who often seem to contradict one another, Burton is not undercutting his own discourse on the causes or treatment of melancholy, but rather continually qualifying a general truth to offer something that will be of use to the individual: "In melancholy, any universal statements of experience are complicated or even overturned by the thousands of individual, messy manifestations of the disease, but Burton recognizes the importance of moving beyond the specifics of the particular case." Experience in its Aristotelian form articulated "not 'how something had happened' on a specific occasion but 'how things happen,' as agreed by general observation and particularly by written authority."38 Burton's book did not single-handedly bring about the dissolution of so-called Aristotelian experience, but it marks a peculiar attempt to speak to individual experience from the resources offered by auctores. He chooses a rhetorical strategy of anticlimax in which he "often seems to leave his weaker arguments for last," bucking convention. He does not seek to advance a position but a cure. Daniel describes this as replacing "argument with assemblage,"39 but Lund's formulation is more compelling: Burton "wishes to leave his reader practically equipped rather than rhetorically won over."40

Lawlor's From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression seeks a global history of melancholia to establish its continuity with depression. The account of this realignment is concise and helpful in offering examples of concrete moments of translation between these terms and concepts. The fourth and fifth chapters offer a readable account of the emergence of melancholia as a clinical category in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The account of Adolf Meyer's contribution provides an important and often neglected narrative bridge between the nosologies of Kraepelin and the metapsychology of Freud and the postwar DSM.41 Meyer wrote in 1905: "If, instead of melancholia, we applied the term depression to the whole class, it would designate in an unassuming way exactly what was meant by the common use of the term melancholia." Nevertheless, the book's overall effect is disappointing. Lawlor concludes that we should return "to the old, rich word 'melancholia'" in order to "signal a sea [End Page 323] change in the way we define and treat depression."42 Even if it were possible to intervene significantly in a mass discourse by substituting a single word, I expect that where the historian finds richness, many would simply see confusion. Lawlor's narrative attempts to map the transition from melancholy to depression as a "transition from the religious to the secular,"43 revivifying a historicist bugbear that recent work has done much to complicate.

Schmidt makes an important intervention here with his erudite study of the divergent constructions of melancholy in a religiously anxious England. In Melancholy and the Care of the Soul, he seeks to refocus the literature on Renaissance melancholy that treat it as a literary "thematic, a trope, a character type, . . . a kind of Weltanschauung" and examine the "problem of melancholic suffering among early modern men and women at large."44 The method is to recover and interpret the treatment of melancholics in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, as Starobinski once did on a larger scale in his "histoire millénaire" of the treatment of the disease.45 The practices and discourses of medicine, moral philosophy, and religious consolation complemented each other in Burton and other writers of the first half of the seventeenth century. In Calvinist communities, spiritual anguish was sometimes taken as a sign of election.46 At the same time, it was recognized that Christians should not allow their fellows-in-faith to fall too far into despair, and Puritan clerics were sometimes called in to provide spiritual consolation as a cure for what would be called "religious melancholy" after Burton's coinage. Schmidt's work shows that the clerics openly recognized that material or physical causes and symptoms were involved in melancholy alongside the spiritual ones. The treatments remained within the sphere of moral preaching and consolation, Gospel reading, singing the Psalms, and prayer, but also included rites of exorcism with fasting and vigils. This served in part as a connection to the material, since early modern demonology often assigned only natural causation to demons who were disallowed by God from effecting spiritual changes directly. The indeterminacy concerning the causality of religious despair allowed for a flourishing of novel combinations of spiritual, medical, and [End Page 324] moral-philosophical forms of pastoral care. Schmidt's close reading of these texts complicates the standard account, which argues that Anglicans and the more conservative Presbyterians, in response to the spiritual enthusiasm of the Dissenters, engaged in a "critique of enthusiasm" that subsequently led to the medicalization of melancholy and the other diagnoses it gave birth to, most notably hypochondria and hysteria. Schmidt argues that Anglican clergy thought melancholy was "important enough . . . to be addressed publicly in the pulpit" and that they too treated it through "spiritual consolation and pastoral care" up until the 1740s.47 There was also a Puritan "critique of enthusiasm," as seen in Richard Baxter's Signs and Causes of Melancholy, published in 1706. Baxter gained a reputation for successful treatment of melancholic cases through pastoral care and tête-a-têtes on the finer points of theological doctrine. Yet he did not indulge each case with the affirmation of their "spiritual affliction." Since sin was not the only possible cause, non-religious treatments could be recommended: "A great part in their cure lyeth in pleasing them, and avoiding all displeasing things as far as lawfully can be done."48 Baxter recognized that religious zeal could exacerbate the symptoms of the melancholic rather than alleviate them. Schmidt concludes that "elements of the early modern care of the soul deserve our attention, not only in terms of historical understanding, but also in terms of our own contemporary concerns over the care of depression."49 I quote here from the work's aporetic conclusion, but it seems that Schmidt is expressing a desire to treat depression with a discourse of moral philosophy. This plea to revive pastoral therapeutics sits a bit awkwardly in the tight historical account, especially when he stumps for Lou Marinoff's "three-day seminars for the would-be philosophical counsellor."50 The takeaway should instead be that, once again, the early modern uncertainty concerning the cause of religious despair generated distinctive communities of practice.

Radden's essays, collectively published in Moody Minds Distempered, are notable for their treatment of the melancholy/depression relation. It is a recurring theme throughout her essays and the explicit subject of chapter four, "Is This Dame Melancholy?: Equating Today's Depression and Past Melancholia." Her care in this regard is sharpened by her training in analytic philosophy. The essays, organized under the headings of History, Categories, and Subjectivity, help to elucidate the semantic boundary between [End Page 325] melancholy and depression as well as the kind of pain associated with depression and the more "obvious" kinds of pain found in bodily injuries. What holds between early modern melancholy, Victorian melancholia, and major depression is affective: "The same moods of sadness predominate subjectively: we seem to be dealing with the same kind of feelings."51 It is precisely this continuity of affect—not its contextual meaning or imputed cause—to which we should attend. Both Lawlor and Radden remind us that the movement to the term "depression" represented a shift "away from the purely psychological toward behavioral and directly observable symptoms."52 The Feighner criteria, establishing diagnosis through a statistical analysis of symptoms and the precursor to the presently ubiquitous use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in psychiatric practice, found theoretical support in clinical pharmacology rather than physiology.53 The disorder is a back-formation from its cure. Depression rendered as a "behavioral disturbance" obscures the social problematic of melancholy, the passionate condition of anxiety or grief that has no socially intelligible correlative. Burton's citation of the "common" definition of melancholy is instructive. Again, recall that melancholy is "without any apparant occasion."54 The formulation of "fear and sadness without cause" was a hallmark of melancholy until the eighteenth century, noted in "almost all accounts"55 and able to be traced back to Hippocrates. As the title of the review indicates, I think the part to stress here is the latter half. This is not because melancholy does not have "fear and sadness as its constant companions" as Burton tells us, nor that we can ignore the distinctive selfreproach of the melancholic, which Freud discriminated as the central feature in the varied clinical presentations of melancholia. Rather, it is to acknowledge the epistemological uncertainty that is an outstanding feature of judgments about affects, others' or our own, the "essential"—or we might say inessential—"epistemological gap between interior causes and exterior outcome."56 The melancholy archive glosses depression as a response to an obscured occasion. Perhaps this is where historians may be mustered as the group most familiar in navigating complexes of causation that dilate in time and so are obscure to present actors. This path is also an alternative to another, darker one. The uncertainty of depression's cause [End Page 326] leaves room for those who wish to assign it some determinate and generalized meaning whether they play the role of self-help guru or terrorist expert. Melancholy's history reminds us that affective uncertainty cannot be reduced by a choice of some situational possibility. This is the perilous path of Nietzsche's "pale criminal," cited by Freud in his section on "Criminals from a Sense of Guilt" (Die Verbrecher aus Schuldbewusstsein). He describes the case of a young man "suffering from an oppressive feeling of guilt, of which he did not know the origin," who found relief "after he had committed a misdeed" and his "sense of guilt was at least attached to something."57 This shows the dark side of the impulse to narrate affect. The impulse is so strong we may act to create one for it, even at great personal cost. Melancholy, however, carries its indeterminacy on its back; the action it provokes is inquiry.

This is not to say that action is necessarily sidelined by melancholy. On the contrary: the aim of affective inquiry is to discover new possibilities for action. The theoretical practices articulated by Flatley, Daniel, and Ahmed offer intriguing possibilities for thinking of a collective developed out of an elaboration of melancholic affect into fellow-feeling. Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness is at once a wide-ranging criticism of the happiness-that-is and an attempt to recover a melancholy archive as a set of possibilities for a happiness-to-come. She begins by recognizing that modern "happiness" is a compulsory fealty to a static set of social ideals. The "happiness scripts" of everyday life curtail and direct the individual's performances of affection and disaffection. The appropriate end of the script is always some "proximity" to objects deemed sufficient for happiness, regardless of the actual affective resonance such objects hold for the individual. Ahmed selects lines from the script and "declines" them. When someone says I am happy if you are happy this reads as I will only be happy if you are, with the further implication I will be unhappy if you do not perform happiness. The other's disaffection is a threat to my contentment. This carries an obligation: You have a duty to be happy for me. One may be sad in the face of accidents or diseases, but civil society is organized for happiness. Ahmed argues that "to deviate from the line is to be threatened with unhappiness."58 Thus, the melancholic script begins with the deviation from the line. In response to this "happiness turn," Ahmed creates an unhappiness archive organized [End Page 327] around three figures: the feminist killjoy, the unhappy queer, and the melancholic migrant. The presence of these marginal figures threatens the happiness of others who enjoy socially dominant positions of masculinity, heterosexuality, and ethnic "belonging."

Although Ahmed presents her politics as a refusal of affirmative culture, I think it is also possible to find in her archive a paradoxical rhetoric of "unhappiness" as fellow-feeling. For instance, Ahmed quotes a line from Boys in the Band, Mart Crowley's play about a birthday party attended by a group of gay male friends, as an example against the "happy queer" narrative. At the end of a tumultuous party, after a near breakdown, Michael, the host, is given a Valium by his erstwhile partner. Once comforted, he wryly jests, "Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse."59 Ahmed attunes us to the "violence" in this "tragic comment"—but we might also attune to its dark wit. In the gathering of unhappy queers, there is no superficial responsibility to the happiness script. The frank, funny, and pained dialogue between the friends (and interlopers) is made possible by their shared distance from the "happy objects" of the heterosexual relationship. While the play's campy and acerbic dialogue may induce cringes today, we might recover this tone by hearing in it not yesteryear's stereotype, but the melancholic's cultivated scorn of the "happiness script." Here it becomes an idiom for the development of a sensus communis that isn't merely the common sense. In her conclusion, Ahmed turns explicitly to the question of what sense of happiness might be recoverable for the melancholics, killjoys, and unhappy ones. Her answer is the culmination of her critique: "Happiness might not simply provide a sense of possibility; it is a sense of possibility. To turn happiness into an expectation is thus to annul its sense of possibility."60 This variation on happiness also gets a metonymic figure: the eponymous "happy-go-lucky" girl in the film by Mike Leigh. The happy-go-lucky individual is "happy with her life not despite not following happy objects around but because she does not; she goes wherever her desire, interest, or curiosity takes her." She is "creative and inventive with [her] object choices."61 It is this creativity that brings the melancholic and the happy-go-lucky into a "queer kinship."62

This openness to possibilities can appear as "silliness." We see the silly melancholic figured in Flatley's reading of Platonov's Chevengur. The [End Page 328] orphan Sasha Dvanov forms intensely mimetic relationships not only with other humans, but also with objects: "Falling asleep he would think that the chickens of the village had long ago gone to sleep, and this consciousness of community with the chickens or the locomotive gave him satisfaction."63 Sasha can only have relationships to things in the world by discovering a similarity between himself and that thing. But to discover these points of kinship is to invent them. Sasha is engaged in an imaginative activity: similarizing. In one episode, he visits his father's grave. Worried that his father is bored being dead, alone, he promises to "die to" him. Sasha commits to being bored with him. Thus, "in an apparent paradox, feeling bored becomes for Dvanov a way of being interested, because he can feel his father being bored as well."64 Throughout Flatley's book, antidepressive melancholia is an activity. Platonov's Russian provides him with the verbal тосковaть (toskovat); Flatley is able to find an English equivalent only in Burton's coinage: "They get their knowledge by books, I mine by melancholizing." To melancholize is to join one's sense of loss with another. Burton establishes "a community of feeling with his readers"65 precisely by establishing that the malady is inescapable. The melancholic's suffering is "within his blood, his braines, his whole temperature, it cannot be removed," so "you may as well bid him that is diseased, not to feele pain, as a melancholy man not to feare, not to be sad." This communal relation is a "double role"—a fellow sufferer who is equipped with "medick." We find a modern take on this capability in Flatley's rewriting of the transference relation: "Here we find what is surely one of Freud's most interesting discoveries: in order to repeat or mime a powerful emotional event from the past, it seems that it is necessary also at the same time to have a mimetic relation to someone in the present."66 A theatrical metaphor undergirds the Freudian "cure": "That Freud and Breuer use the term 'catharsis' to describe the nature of the talking cure unmistakably references Aristotle's 'imitation of an action' and in doing so suggests that it is the emotionally purgative effects of mimetic rather than narrative representation that cure."67 The countertransference, as the "'falling into' the emotion of the other,"68 is the cure.

The famous maxim which closes The Anatomy, "Be not solitary, be [End Page 329] not idle," is not only a pithy bit of encouragement, but "holds as a recipe for the contemporary theorization of melancholy itself" according to Daniel. The opposite of solitariness is "connectedness, the imbrication of the self in social assemblages, and the interconnection of melancholy assemblages within a larger network," while idleness is counterpoised with "movement, action, and utility."69 Yet the meaning of these possibilities is underdeveloped. Daniel's work opens with a personal anecdote. At an academic conference, he passes "within earshot of a woman violently shouting into a cell phone." She is telling the person on the line that she is having a panic attack: ". . . and I need to know if you can help me. Can you help me? Can you come here right now and help me stop this? I need to know if you can help me right now!" He stops, breathless and beating. Caught between "sympathy and aversion" he cranes his neck to see what she looks like, imagining that she might be a "distraught job seeker," a "publisher in a recession," a "tenure-obsessed junior faculty member," and so on. But in "toying with these possible scenarios" he is "struck by their cruel irrelevance to her human situation." He believes that in the mere perception of her situation "a delicate bond is formed between us."70 She then drops out of the account. We, too, as readers, turn toward her only to perceive her "human situation." Yet I think this is a mistake, if one that is quite understandable: Daniel fails to hear in this woman's voice what he heard in Hamlet's, the melancholic aside. He has confused the question of the possibilities of what might be the case with his own question of whether to turn toward her. But the money is in providing a new kind of distinction that allows us to see our conditions differently, in a way that may extend beyond the personal to the historical and communal, one that will provide, like Ahmed's happy-go-lucky, a "sense of possibility."

Flatley narrates a complementary story from W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk. While working at Atlanta University, Du Bois learns of a case: a "poor Negro, in Central Georgia, Sam Hose, had killed his landlord's wife." He leaves the university to mail a "careful and reasoned statement concerning the evident facts" to Joel Chandler Harris. On the way, he learns that Sam Hose "had been lynched, and they said that his knuckles were on exhibition at a grocery store farther down on Mitchell Street, along which I was walking." Du Bois then writes: "I turned back to the University. I began to turn aside from my work." This double turn transforms his life. His scientific researches do not respond to a "definite [End Page 330] demand," and he can no longer remain a "calm, cool, and detached scientist while Negroes [are] lynched, murdered, and starved."71 Du Bois perceives that his scientific affect is not of a piece with the violence perpetrated upon other blacks. He in some sense becomes Burton's melancholic, recognizing that his sadness is out of place with his situation, but with a crucial distinction: the question of what the "situation" is becomes a matter of deliberation. He begins to seek out new possibilities for action by trying to feel his way into the problem, not unlike Herder's principle of Einfühlung for hermeneutic science.72 He does not try to cure his passion but to interpret it as a symptom of a social conflict.

The call to historicize affects, beginning with our own, comes from the recognition that all emotions are responses. The absence of an "apparent occasion" in early modern melancholy or contemporary anxiety is not explained by its remedies. It is evidence of an obscured relation to past and present others. The maxim is Emotions are incipient histories. While the clinical treatment seeks to relieve symptoms, the historical approach expands the antecedent, extending the meaning of feeling beyond the borders of suffering skin onto the horizon of historical consciousness. Du Bois's response to his "turn" provides a stunning example of the power of articulation for giving meaning to common affect. The ability of so many to identify with his articulation of "double consciousness" gave a common private experience a historical meaning and so opened up the possibility of developing a new consciousness around this articulation.

In this anticipation of possibility, the Freudian account of the melancholic as a mourner of the unknown loss offers us a useful vocabulary under some modification. Our collective "dreams deferred" just as much as our private lost loves are a ready repertoire of identifications. But first they must be practiced, that is, brought to collective consciousness and, following the psychoanalytic idiom, worked through. The work is an incorporation of the image of another into oneself. Its result is a theatrical self composed of many death masks. Genial melancholy accepts that the loss is real, but also embraces the "afterlife" of the dead in one's own life. Paradoxically, in forming a new unity in the ego, the diversity and extent of our losses provide a cornucopia for self-fashioning, an aid to individuation. Burton's description of his polyanthous writing practice can serve as a maxim for this work: "Omne meum, nihil meum, 'tis all mine, and none mine."73 In [End Page 331] its wounded openness, the melancholic ego is willing to serve as a "relation prop"74 for others. This willingness may originally come from a private history of the Freudian family romance, but in the felt loss of this "nameless woe" there is still a desire that presses into the next moment, a sensitivity to all that is similar to our loss. This attunement becomes a critical capacity, a divining of a certain common quality among disparate phenomena, an affective ingenium. Antidepressive melancholia distinguishes action from decision. Recall the image of Du Bois as indignant citizen-scientist, ready to turn back from mission into question. Melancholizing is a practice of detachment: not detaching oneself from the passion, but detaching the passion from an account of the self. Rather than introjecting the lost object into the ego, the loss must be memorialized in a shareable object. One of these melancholizing practices, as Burton reminds us, is possible within scholarship. Let us then look forward to the broadening of our community of melancholics in the near future. [End Page 332]

Timothy Barr
University of Pittsburgh


1. Erwin Panofsky, Fritz Saxl, and Raymond Klibansky, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art (London: Nelson and Sons, 1964), v.

2. Mitchell B. Merback, Perfection's Therapy: An Essay on Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia I (New York: Zone Books, 2017).

3. World Health Organization, "Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates" (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2017).

4. Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 138.

5. See Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); Douglas Crimp, Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 2004.

6. Jennifer Radden, Moody Minds Distempered: Essays on Melancholy and Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 51.

7. Drew Daniel, The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 166.

8. Radden, Moody Minds Distempered, 148.

9. Mary Ann Lund, Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading The Anatomy of Melancholy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 133.

10. Jean Starobinski, L'encre de la mélancolie (Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 2012), 181.

11. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, Rhonda L. Blair, and J. B. Bambourgh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 1:162 [I.1.3.1.]. Hereafter, AM. References to Burton's original textual index are bracketed.

12. Radden, Moody Minds Distempered, 135-36.

13. "Die Melancholie, deren Begriffsbestimmung auch in der deskriptiven Psychiatrie schwankend ist, tritt in verschiedenartigen klinischen Formen auf, deren Zusammenfassung zur Einheit nicht gesichert scheint, von denen einige eher an somatische als an psychogene Affektionen mahnen," Sigmund Freud, Gesammelte Werke: Chronologisch Geordnet (London: Imago Publishing Co., 1946) [hereafter GW]; translated into English by James Strachey as The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud [hereafter SE], 14:245.

14. AM, 1.395. [I.3.1.2], quoted in Radden, Moody Minds Distempered, 154.

15. "Jede einzelne der Erinnerungen und Erwartungen, in denen die Libido an das Objekt geknüpft war, wird eingestellt, überbesetzt und an ihr die Lösung der Libido vollzogen," GW 10:430; SE 14:247.

16. Radden, Moody Minds Distempered, 156.

17. Jonathan Flatley, Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 46.

18. "Der Schatten des Objekts fiel so auf das Ich," GW 10:435; SE 14:249.

19. "Der Charakter des Ichs ein Niederschlag der aufgegebenen Objektbesetzungen ist, die Geschichte dieser Objektwahlen enthält," GW 13:257; SE 19:29, quoted in Flatley, Affective Mapping, 49.

20. Flatley, Affective Mapping, 46.

21. Flatley, 50.

22. Flatley, 67.

23. Flatley, 41.

24. Flatley, 92.

25. AM, 1:6 ["Democritus Junior to the Reader"].

26. Lund, Melancholy, Medicine and Religion, 2.

27. Angus Gowland, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 4.

28. AM, I.24 ["Democritus Junior to the Reader"].

29. Richard Baxter, A Christian directory, or, A summ of practical theologie and cases of conscience directing Christians how to use their knowledge and faith, how to improve all helps and means, and to perform all duties, how to overcome temptations, and to escape or mortifie every sin (London, 1673), 312, quoted in Jeremy Schmidt, Melancholy and the Care of the Soul: Religion, Moral Philosophy and Madness in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 109.

30. AM, I.23 ["Democritus Junior to the Reader"].

31. Daniel, Melancholy Assemblage, 236.

32. Daniel, 54.

33. Daniel, 65.

34. Daniel, 137.

35. Gowland, Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy, 216.

36. Lund, Melancholy, Medicine and Religion, 136.

37. See Stanley Fish, Self-consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1998) and Ruth A. Fox, The Tangled Chain: The Structure of Disorder in the Anatomy of Melancholy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).

38. Lund, Melancholy, Medicine and Religion, 41.

39. Lund, 168.

40. Lund, 134.

41. Clark Lawlor, From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 151-54.

42. Lawlor, 201.

43. Lawlor, 22.

44. Schmidt, Melancholy and the Care of the Soul, 4.

45. Starobinski. History of the Treatment of Melancholy from the Earliest Times to 1900 (Basle: J. R. Geigy, 1962). That work is now republished as the first section of L'encre de la mélancolie, 9-158.

46. Schmidt, Melancholy and the Care of the Soul, 54-64.

47. Schmidt, 100.

48. Schmidt, 111.

49. Schmidt, 188.

50. Schmidt, 187.

51. Schmidt, 65.

52. Schmidt, 66.

53. Lawlor, From Melancholia to Prozac, 162-64.

54. AM, 1:162 [I.1.3.1.].

55. Radden, Moody Minds Distempered, 77.

56. Daniel, Melancholy Assemblage, 64-65.

57. "Er litt an einem drückenden Schuldbewusstsein unbekannter Herkunft, und nachdem er ein Vergehen begangen hatte, war der Druck gemildert. Das Schuldbewusstsein war wenigstens irgenwie untergebracht," GW 10:390; SE 14:332.

58. Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 91.

59. Mart Crowley, The Boys in the Band (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968): 128, quoted in Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 94.

60. Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 220.

61. Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 221.

62. Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 222.

63. Flatley, Affective Mapping, 173.

64. Flatley, 177.

65. Lund, Melancholy, Medicine and Religion, 145.

66. Flatley, Affective Mapping, 55.

67. Flatley, 54.

68. Flatley, 56.

69. Daniel, Melancholy Assemblage, 250.

70. Daniel, 2-3.

71. Flatley, Affective Mapping, 108-9.

72. See L. H. Edwards, "A Brief Conceptual History of Einfühlung: 18th-century Germany to Post-World War II U.S. Psychology," History of Psychology 16, no. 4 (2013): 269-81.

73. AM, 1:11 ["Democritus Junior to the Reader"].

74. Flatley, Affective Mapping, 61.

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