The Secret Wound of Love-Melancholy
Ficino’s account of love-melancholy crucially expands the account of the disorder he receives from earlier medical texts by hinting at a latent association between the illness of love-melancholy and a resistance to loss. His tentative elaboration of the relationship between morbid love and an inability to accept the loss of a loved one in fact represents a significant development, not only of previous conceptions of melancholic love, but also of melancholy per se. As the analysis of the theories of melancholia in the preceding chapter illustrates, our automatic post-Freudian association between mourning and melancholia is not, in fact, a prominent part of the classical or medieval medical tradition that Ficino inherits.1 Ficino’s insight, of course, looks forward to psychoanalytic accounts of the intimate relationship between the illness of melancholia and the “normal” grief reaction of mourning. As we move toward an analysis of the melancholic structure of romance, this chapter will explore the theoretical continuity between the medieval medical framework that informs Ficino’s account of love and psychoanalytic theory.
Two central and interlocking themes emerge from a theoretical reading of the medical tradition. First, Ficino’s association of love-melancholy with excessive grief allows us to explore the vitally important function of loss in both medieval/early modern and contemporary accounts of desire. The obsessive style of love-melancholy connotes a refusal to mourn a lost object (a refusal to acknowledge its loss), and I argue in the remaining chapters of this book that it is precisely such a resistance to loss that organizes the patterns of romance. Psychoanalytic work on the distinction between mourning and melancholia will help us to elaborate more fully