The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva

The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva

The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva

The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva

Synopsis

Spanning 24 centuries, this anthology collects over thirty selections of important Western writing about melancholy and its related conditions by philosophers, doctors, religious and literary figures, and modern psychologists. Truly interdisciplinary, it is the first such anthology. As it traces Western attitudes, it reveals a conversation across centuries and continents as the authors interpret, respond, and build on each other's work. Editor Jennifer Radden provides an extensive, in-depth introduction that draws links and parallels between the selections, and reveals the ambiguous relationship between these historical accounts of melancholy and today's psychiatric views on depression. This important new collection is also beautifully illustrated with depictions of melancholy from Western fine art.

Excerpt

For most of western European history, melancholy was a central cultural idea, focusing, explaining, and organizing the way people saw the world and one another and framing social, medical, and epistemological norms. Today, in contrast, it is an insignificant category, of little interest to medicine or psychology, and without explanatory or organizing vitality. In homage to its past, I have gathered here selections from some of the most influential sources on melancholy in the long tradition preceding Freud's 1917 Mourning and Melancholia, an essay that ushers in a new type of theorizing and represents, in certain respects, the completion of this tradition. These texts on melancholic states form the centerpiece of the book. (The terms melancholic state, melancholy, and melancholia are not distinguished in the following discussion; nor were they, in any consistent way, in past writing.) But I have also included a small number of later twentieth-century discussion on clinical depression.

Writing about melancholy has customarily been broad, directed not only toward defining but also toward remedying melancholy dispositions, states, and conditions. Some of these prescriptions make for interesting reading, and others are closely related to the nature and causes of melancholy. However, I chose the excerpts and texts that follow to introduce conceptual questions about melancholy -- what it is, rather than what to do about it. My emphasis is on the categorization, definition, origin (or etiology), and phenomenological qualities of these states. On another principle of selection, I preferred longer excerpts to wider representation. Thus, one excerpt often stands in for a whole tradition of writing (a tradition I have attempted to at least sketch in my remarks preceding each selection).

The texts are presented in the order they were written, although not always in the order they were printed, and in English translation. Represented are the humoral theories of the Greek physicians; Aristotelian speculation about melancholy and inspiraton; the early church fathers' writing on the sin of acedia, that state of despondency that seems to have shaped later medieval conceptions of melancholy; the Arabic doctors who preserved Greek learning and returned it to western Europe . . .

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