Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

"Still Seeking for Something": The Unspeakable (Loss) in "Passing"

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

"Still Seeking for Something": The Unspeakable (Loss) in "Passing"

Article excerpt

I am saturnine - bereft - disconsolate,

The Prince of Aquitaine whose tower has crumbled;

My lone star is dead - and my bespangled lute

Bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

Gérard de Nerval, El Desdichado1

The Melancholic Souls

In his famous essay "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917), Sigmund Freud writes that the loss of an object normally provokes a reaction known as mourning. The mourner knows whom or what he/she lost and is aware that suffering is part of a normal process at the end of which a new life begins. Yet, Freud adds that in some people the same event produces melancholia instead of mourning. In many cases one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost. This situtation is common in psychoanalysis, even when the patient is aware of the loss which has given rise to his/her melancholia, but only in the sense that he/she knows whom he/she has lost, but not what he/she has lost in him/her. Freud suggests therefore that melancholia is in some way related to an object lost which is withdrawn from consciousness.

The most striking characteristic of the melancholic personality is extreme diminution in self-regard: somehow the loss of an object has triggered an impoverishment of the self. As Freud puts it: "In mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself" (Freud, 1989: 585). In other words, while it would seem as though the loss suffered is that of an object, what the melancholic has actually experienced is a loss of self.

According to Julia Kristeva, the author of Black Sun. Depression and Melancholia, the melancholic suffers not from the Object but the Thing (French Chose) lost, which is "an unnamable, supreme good, something unrepresentable, that [...] no word could signify. [...] The Thing is inscribed within us without memory, the buried accomplice of our unspeakable anguishes" (1989: 13-14). Kristeva identifies the Thing with the Mother, by which she understands the pre-Oedipal Mother - the one strongly bonded to the child and then prohibited in the Name of the Father. The mother is the child's first love which has to be abandoned in order to enable him or her to become the subject, which in Lacanian terms means to enter the language.

Kristeva emphasizes that even though the process of losing the maternal (semantic) in order to become part of the paternal (symbolic) is common to both the male and the female child, it is the girl who suffers more from the matricide. While the boy, entering the paternal sphere, identifies with the father and replaces the mother with another object of the opposite sex, the girl has to return to the abandoned mother to identify with her in order to make herself an object of the opposite-sex desire. According to Kristeva, this is "an unbelievable symbolic effort," as for the girl the act of killing the mother is, in fact, the act of killing herself. This thesis explains why, and sociology seconds the observation, depression (Kristeva uses this term interchangeably with that of melancholia) is more frequently called "a feminine disease:" "In the midst of its lethal ocean, the melancholy woman is the dead one that has always been abandoned within herself and can never kill outside herself" (30).

For Kristeva, as well as for Luce Irigaray, the only possible way to solve the problem of the melancholic and to halt his/her self-destructive drive is to "reveal the sexual (homosexual) secret of the depressive course of action that causes the melancholy person to live with death [...]." Thanks to this the melancholic is "able to integrate loss as signifiable as well as erogenetic. The separation henceforth appears no longer as a threat of disintegration but as a stepping stone toward some other - conflictive, bearing Eros and Thanatos, open to both meaning and nonmeaning" (Kristeva, 83). Though recovery of the lost object (the maternal Thing) as an erotic object (the Object of desire) insures continuity in a metonymy of pleasure, for women, it means the necessity of being faced with "the dilemma of homosexual drive. …

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