The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature

By Juliana Schiesari | Go to book overview

Preface

This book is about the cultural status of an affect. The affect in question is variably called depression, melancholia, or even mourning. How such different namings come about is an issue of cultural politics, and the role of gender in these designations is not innocent. What I try to show, in the following pages, is the insistence of what could be called a politics of lack in a certain cultural representation of loss known as melancholia. By a politics of lack, I mean the attribution of value to some subjects who lack but not to others who appear equally "lacking." To anyone with a feminist perspective, it is no surprise that this politics of lack operates along gender lines: as I show in my readings of various texts, women's lack (ironically) never turns out to be quite lacking enough, while the sense of lack foregrounded in such great men as Petrarch, Ficino, and Tasso or the character of Hamlet paradoxically works to their credit as the sign of inspired genius. This gender dissymmetry is not simply an effect of my interpretation; it is the historical legacy of these canonical figures.

Unlike many contemporary feminist critics, I do not restrict myself to texts written by women; nor is my aim the deconstructive one of discovering the repressed femininity supposedly to be found in the most misogynist of male texts. Rather, I seek to situate the texts of male melancholia along with their received cultural values in relation to other texts, notably lesser-known ones by women, that question the ways lack

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