Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mourning and Loneliness Readings

I'm somewhat cheating here, I wrote this back in October in preparation for the Poncey-Highlands Reading Group. But, it's probably new to you. And, I am working on something for The Avant Guardian check there this Saturday for my new piece.

We are reading two texts that are grappling with how we understand ourselves and how this self that is developed relates to absence. In Freud's "Mourning Melancholia" is discussed the effects of unintentional separation from our love objects; with Melanie Klein's "On the Sense of Loneliness" is asked the question, can we ever overcome our sense of loneliness that is the result of our separation.

(Pictured: Fritz Lang's Metropolis, an example of monumentality)

I've further also suggested reading Nancy Burke's "InVisible Worlds: On Women and Solitude" as well as Judith Butler's "Melancholy Gender - Refused Identification." Burke's essay briefly outlines some developments in contemporary (as of 1997) feminist thinking on the parameters of what it means to have solitude and gender, discussing Chodorow's suggestion that women experience solitude in a manner fundamentally different from men. The essay we've read by Freud has played a crucial role in the development of Judith Butler's thinking. In her 1995 essay she attempts to elaborate her discussions of gender performativity as first discussed in her career-making book Gender Trouble. These suggested readings by Burke and Butler I've put forward so as to enhance our insight into the Klein and Freud essays. But there is an obvious question: why read about mourning, melancholia, or any senses of loneliness? What are the benefits of discussing these topics in a group that has, at least initially, intimated a desire to discuss politics and economics in light of current events unfolding?

Louis Theroux of the BBC recently made a documentary The Most Hated Family in America which seeks to elaborate what is the Westboro Baptist Church and why they are traveling the U.S. protesting the funerals of soldiers that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan with signs that state "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for IEDs". If time permits we can view this documentary, as it's relatively short at 45 minutes. Suffice it to say, the members of Westboro Baptist have their rationalizations. According to the membership, it is Biblically-sound and necessary to do the work they do at these moments of public mourning.

In Freud's essay he develops a theory of mourning as well as makes speculations about a term he calls melancholia. The work of mourning, according to these theories, is to assist in the development of the ego character, which I take to be synonymous with a sense of self.


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