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

By Juliana Schiesari | Go to book overview

Introduction

After two decades of proclaiming new beginnings and new sciences of all sorts, contemporary theoretical discourse seems given over to a rhetoric of loss and to a general sense that things are at an "end." No longer the uncritical advocate of textual free play or of a limitless plurality of meaning, current poststructuralist thinking has issued in such odd assertions as "every work is a work of mourning" 1 and "there is meaning only in despair." 2 Those who utopically saw desire as revolutionary now ask if "a vigorously melancholic humanity [would not be] the proof that [humanity] is 'progressing toward the better'?" 3 Where the "ends" of man, modernity, or Western metaphysics were once greeted with morbid glee and anarchistic celebration, now the apocalyptic tone of such pronouncements seems somewhat hollow, and even tinged with a sense of defeat and anguish. Writes another poststructuralist philosopher: "I am on the side of melancholia,. . . I am nostalgic, sad, elegiac." 4

____________________
1
Jacques Derrida, in an as yet unpublished lecture, given at Comell University in October 1988, titled " The Politics of Friendship."
2
Julia Kristeva, Soleil noir: Dépression et mélancolie ( Paris: Gallimard, 1987), p. 15; Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon Roudiez ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), pp. 5-6.
3
Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. G. Van Den Abbeele ( Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 179.
4
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, " A Jean-François Lyotard: en étions-nous?" in Comment Juger, ed. M. Enaudeau and J.-L. Thibaud ( Paris: Minuit, 1985).

-i-

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