Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Maps for the Melancholy

Photograph by Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Something I wrote in a letter today: I'm still intrigued by this notion of Freud's, that melancholy is in fact 'mourning without a conscious object.' The ritual of mourning is there, the symbolic drive towards expatiation and catharsis, but the melancholic only wanders in circles because there is no recognition of what has truly been lost. As a result, this loss, this absence, gets spread out shadow-like over everything. This is where I think the work of artists like W.G. Sebald and Chris Marker (not to mention Paul Auster, the later films of Krzysztof Kieslowski, and from what I understand, the Roland Barthes of Camera Lucida) overlaps: in this feeling for the sometimes overwhelming 'poignancy of things'...

An image from the Czech documentary Private Century
Incidentally, one of the chapters in the Wolf Man's Memoir is titled 'Unconscious Mourning.' In it, if I remember right, he finds himself dropping in and out of law school and taking up landscape painting, generally vacillating. He also takes up with a roguish friend of the family and goes on a pan-European expedition in order to finally visit the acreage this man bought long ago and has since talked about as a kind of Eden (it turns out to be little more than a unremarkable meadow).

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