Mourning and Melancholia

Authored by: Claudia Lapping

Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalytic Political Theory

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  September  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138696310
eBook ISBN: 9781315524771
Adobe ISBN:


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The conceptual distinctions introduced in Freud’s theorization of mourning, melancholia, and melancholic identification can be used to open up the meaning of grief within the political field. Freud’s observation of the visceral ambivalence associated with melancholia provides a basis for later theorizations of the fundamental passion or narcissistic wound that underlies both the intransigence and the unpredictability of forces associated with loss. His conceptualization of complex mechanisms of internalization of lost objects and cultural prohibitions provides a basis for exploring processes of the repudiation of excluded or marginalized identities. His identification of contrasting processes of internalization and externalization helps us to map the contrasting ways political energies are directed in the aftermath of loss. Most crucially, his formulation of unconscious object loss as a way of explaining intensely painful affective processes guides our understanding of relations to loss as a psychical layer embedded within political and economic relations. To explore the use of these ideas in political theory, this chapter examines a series of cases and argues that it is important to distinguish between epistemology and the empirical exploration of a specific case. Epistemological arguments indicate some of the political risks involved in the representation of loss; but it is important to remain open-minded in exploring unconscious relations to a particular instance of loss in the political field.

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