Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Praise of Melancholy

nothing new but worth reading.

I think it's worth keeping in mind that melancholy can be superficial too. In fact that's the only thing to conclude given how popular misery memoirs and similar reality TV, talk shows and other varieties of emotional porn really have become in our culture. It is not melancholy we should praise but rather authenticity, autonomy and truthfulness.

Meanwhile on Guardian books blog Nicholar Lezard is asking: "Does melancholy literature deepen depression?"

Well, if one is really depressed, most likely he wouldn't feel like reading. Julia Kristeva in her book Black Sun talks about "asymbolia" as one of the side-effects of chronic melancholia i.e. a state of mind in which familiar signs and symbols lose their original meanings with a concomitant loss of faith in the communicative and representational power of language. But yes reading indeed helps if one is experiencing mild sadness by providing vocabulary and expressions using which one can detach oneself from one's feelings.


neha vish said...

Actually, depression may just drive you to books. It takes less effort to be with a book than with people. Though even the effort in reading a book is immense. I don't know if melancholy literature has an effect on depression - but I do know that I read Norwegian Wood at a particularly vulnerable time and it made things worse for weeks after that.

I wonder if I am attributing something to the book that was already well on its way hitting me - but it's hard to tell.

Alok said...

actually that comment about failure of language is more applicable to severe cases of clinical depression. I haven't experienced it myself but I have seen people unable or unwilling to speak, managing only grunts and moans or uttering only meaningless gibberish on and on... this is melancholia on the brink of madness.

mild sadness just makes one withdraw away from other people whose constant cheerfulness and demands you can't stand. I personally never read books in purely personal terms. I use them to distance and detach myself from my own feelings so sad books really don't affect me that way, most of the time at least.