Sunday, October 28, 2012

Melancholia, Depression/Ahmed, Berlant

I didn't quite understand Berlant's argument in Cruel Optimism that (political) depression was a positive thing that could lead one to a better method of “navigating an ongoing and sustaining relation to the scene and circuit of optimism and disappointment” (27), and now I’m even more confused because Ahmed seems to be making a similar argument in her discussion of melancholia and queer grief.

Ahmed writes that she wants to challenge the idea that letting go of the lost object (Freudian mourning) is more beneficial than allowing the object to persist within the subject (melancholia). She references Eng and Kazanjian, who argue that melancholia functions as a method of “keeping the other…alive in the present” (159). I’m quite confused as to why Ahmed doesn’t seem to address this in terms of pathology, and instead seems to simply accept it as a ‘better’ method of engaging with queer grief. Melancholia, in keeping the other alive, creates a distorted field in which both subject and object become ‘undead,’ in which the border between life and death, past and present, is necessarily muddled. If Ahmed asks why we should feel compelled to ‘let go’ of these lost objects, I would argue that the creation of this blurred border, which thus requires the subject to reorient himself with regards to all questions of past/present and alive/dead, is harmful. If the spaces in between bodies are where the politics of emotion is able to work, then I would argue that the melancholic subject is unable to access these spaces in the same productive ways as non-melancholic subjects.

I feel like I must be missing something, since two different authors now have called for a rethinking of depression/melancholia as a potential positive event for rethinking human relationships to politics and affect. But really, it just seems strange to me. I can’t wrap my head around seeing these things as positive. 

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