chapter  2
6 Pages

De ning melancholy

Melancholy is elusive. Slipping and sliding between widely disparate elds, it is as common to nd a debate over the de nition of melancholy in a psychiatric journal as it is in a journal of literature, art, design or philosophy, as illustrated in two conferences from the last decade. The rst, in 2002, was in the area of the humanities and titled ‘Culture and Melancholy’,1 and

the diversity of interpretations of melancholy characterised contributions which ranged from late medieval recognition of melancholy as the truth behind supposed witchcraft; Burton’s voracious effort to encapsulate a frayed, fugitive subject; the romantic manifestation of a melancholy both uneasily masculine and insistently feminine; the nineteenth century’s poetic reappraisal and refraction of medieval, Renaissance and romantic models; the uncanonized interstices of Freud’s ostensible monolithic formulations; and the contemporary signi cance of a speci cally American, ctional, variant of a suffering in some ways so acutely European.