May 21, 2007

Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun

This study on depression and melancholia has proved to be extremely interesting and relevant to a poet to be discussed in my PhD thesis, Gwyneth Lewis. Lewis refers to Black Sun in her own book about depression, Sunbathing in the Rain and she writes how Kristeva demands that the depressed subject faces the void that presents itself like a huge black hole. Proceeding with a psychoanalytical approach, Kristeva certainly describes the absence that seems to be at the heart of depression: ‘Absent from other people’s meaning, alien, accident with respect to naïve happiness, I owe a supreme, metaphysical lucidity to my depression’ (4). As Kristeva makes clear in this comment, there are advantages as well as disadvantages in being depressed. Although it provokes extreme suffering, depression can also offer a specific metaphysical view of the world. For Kristeva this view emerges from a confusion of self and other so that ‘we shall see the shadow cast on the fragile self, hardly dissociated from the other, precisely by the loss of that essential other’ (5).

Drawing on concepts such as ‘the death drive’, Kristeva embarks on her analysis of melancholia and depression using ‘a Freudian point of view ‘ and she tries to discover the general issues concerned with object loss (10). Object loss derives from Freud and Melanie Klein and it describes the oscillation between hate and love in the perception of a lost object of desire and the eventual incorporation of that object within oneself as a means of coping with such a confused state of mind. This often leads to self-loathing fro the shadow self that represents the lost object. Hatred that rails against a lost object becomes self-hatred. Kristeva points towards an extreme version of this object loss in which: ‘The depressed narcissist mourns not an Object but the Thing’ (13). According to Kristeva this Thing is ‘the real that does not lend itself to signification, the center[sic] of attraction and repulsion, seat of sexuality from which the object of desire will become separated’ (13). This is the void, the bottomless lack that extreme depressed subjects mourn over and incorporate into themselves. Kristeva uses a metaphor from Nerval to describe it in poetic fashion as ‘an imagined sun, bright and black at the same time’ (13). In wondering how to approach such a state of being, Kristeva recommends a poetic slant tackling the condition ‘through melody, through rhythm, semantic polyvalency, the so-called poetic form, which decomposes and recomposes signs’ (14). Kristeva concludes: ‘For those who are depressed, the Thing like the self is a downfall that carries them along into the invisible and the unnameable’ (15).


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