Melancholy as a mood of critique

Recent surveys of melancholy in the arts, literature, and thought highlight its function more as an artistic convention and critical disposition than a “demon,” malady or experience:

Mélancolie : génie et folie en Occident (2005), edited by Jean Clair, is the massive catalogue of a large-scale exhibition at Grand Palais (Paris, 2005) and Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin, 2006) that ranged from Sophocles’ Ajax to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus.

The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900, edited by Anne Leonard, is the catalogue of a research exhibition at Smart Museum of Art (University of Chicago, 2011).

The Melancholy Art by Michael Ann Holly (Princeton UP, 2013) looks at the function of melancholy in the work of major 20th-century art historians.

Melancholy [1984] by László Földényi (Yale UP, 2016) is an encyclopedic survey of the temperament as illness, disposition, and energy from antiquity to Modernism.

When books like these (together with literary ones) are read in the context of current discussions of racial melancholy (Anne Cheng), “cultural melancholy” (Jermaine Singleton), and “strategic melancholism” (Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc), melancholy emerges as a rigorous ascesis of affect as well as a “critical discourse” (Mary Cosgrove) with serious political potential comparable to that of other techniques of disengagement, especially at times of left deafeat.  It represents the mood of post-revolutionary critique.  It can also encourage a tragic understanding of the revolution’s failure.

I owe my preoccupation with the practices of melancholy to one of its great virtuosos, Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, my other self.

June 7, 2017

This entry was posted in General Literature, Melancholy, The Arts. Bookmark the permalink.