Academic journal article PSYART

Mapping the Boundaries of Melancholy and Depression through Psychoanalysis and Intimate Literature

Academic journal article PSYART

Mapping the Boundaries of Melancholy and Depression through Psychoanalysis and Intimate Literature

Article excerpt

abstract

This essay explores the melancholy/depressive composite, a term coined by Julia Kristeva. Using psychoanalytic theory, the author analyzes the main character Monique from Simone de Beauvoir's short story "The Woman Destroyed". It is argued that Monique's melancholy during the dissolution of her marriage revolves around a paradoxical sense of a loss of the self. It is also put forward that although Monique may not seem to gain therapeutically from psychotherapy, she does in an unorthodox way. Related to this, it is argued that she experiences enlightenment by keeping a diary, which puts pressure on Kristeva's position that literary representations are more about catharsis than about elaboration. This article articulates therefore reasons why journaling is about elaboration and catharsis and hence a therapeutic experience. The final critical suggestion made is that Monique is not completely "destroyed" as the title suggests, but "broken" as the original title (La femme rompue) intimates.

"The journal is a record of experience and growth, not a presence of things well done or said" (Henry David Thoreau).

"For those who are racked by melancholy writing about it would have meaning only if writing sprang out of that very melancholy" (Kristeva 3). Thus begins Julia Kristeva's Black Sun Depression and Melancholia, an ambitious project to understand the "abyss of sorrow" that often renders life unbearable. Kristeva contends that melancholia and depression form a "composite" condition. Echoing Freud's position that both melancholy and depression revolve around that same impossible mourning for the maternal object, she maintains that the two terms differ in degrees of intensity. Melancholy is characterized by a heightened sense of both despondency and exhilaration compared with depression. She also argues that melancholy is irreversible on its own and only responds to antidepressants (10). Still, she is quick to point out that the border between the two remains blurred and hence ill defined.

Furthering Kristeva's attempt to understand the melancholy/depressive composite especially among women, this essay offers an analysis of Simone de Beauvoir's short story "The Woman Destroyed". Using Freudian theory as a starting point,[1] I first examine if and how de Beauvoir's main character Monique suffers from a melancholy/depressive composite: "loss of the object, ambivalence, regression of the libido, and a modification of signifying bonds" (Kristeva 10).[2] This final trait highlights the failure of language to provide a vehicle of relief from the melancholy/depressive state and the ensuing search for the signifier to approach the signified. In other words, for the depressed, language often fails to promote an "auto-stimulation" that is necessary to initiate responses (Kristeva 10). Second, drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of the "mothers of psychoanalysis" (such as, Horney, Deutsch and Klein), I present a reading of Monique's personality and analyze the roots of her depression. This analysis propels us to conclude that the real sense of loss pertains to the loss of her personal identity. Even though this may seem unoriginal, it must be stressed that Monique ironically mourns the loss of an identity that insured her own self-destruction. In other words, her original self-identity had been constructed as a means to discourage development, and the break-up of her marriage curiously does not destroy her, but rather motivates her to put herself back together in new ways. Third, I will show that while Monique may not seem at first glance to gain from psychotherapy, she does so in an unorthodox way that resembles a cathartic experience. Related to this position, this article does not simply argue that journaling is therapeutic, which would hardly be a novel idea. Instead I concentrate on how journaling is therapeutic. For Kristeva, literary representations (which must include diaries) are about catharsis and less about elaboration, awareness of the psychic causes of suffering (24). …

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