Melancholy: Philosophy, Literature, and Aesthetics
68 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
What is melancholy? And why does it figure so frequently, and fruitfully, in literature and philosophy? Historically, “melancholia” referred to a disorder resulting from an imbalance of the body: an excess of black bile thought to cause sustained sadness, sudden and inexplicable anger, sullen fits, and intense imaginative capability. Melancholy could descend on anyone at any time, irrespective of position or gender—though artists, scholars, lovers, and the devoutly religious are among those whom Robert Burton’s capacious Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) marked as particularly vulnerable to the condition. From Burton’s bittersweet imbalance of the humors to Freud’s account of melancholia as “profoundly painful dejection” to Melanie Klein’s “depressive realism” and Nina Simone’s “Trouble in Mind,” this course will investigate key sites in theories and poetics of melancholy. How have the concept of melancholy and its associated images and strategies evolved in history?
In this course, we will ask: what has melancholy meant over time, and what does it mean now? Why have melancholic states proven such fruitful ground for imaginative and intellectual exploration? Does melancholy entail certain kinds of formal, aesthetic, political, or theoretical commitments? If so, what are they? What are the links between melancholia and what we now call depression? Why is melancholy so good and sad to think with? Pairing literature and philosophy, this class will address these questions through a corpus of reading likely to include Adorno, Aristotle, Baudelaire, Benjamin, Lauren Berlant, Wendy Brown, Gwendolyn Brooks, Burton, Butler, Coleridge, Freud, Goethe, G.M. Hopkins, Keats, Kristeva, Nella Larsen, Billie Holliday, Dorothy Parker, Plath, Gillian Rose, Eve Sedgwick, Anne Sexton, Stevie Smith, and Enzo Traverso.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2-5pm
June 09 — June 30, 2019