Mourning Alone Together

Oxford Literary Review 44 (1):70-82 (2022)
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Abstract

In the current context of pervasive loss and the absence of publicly commemorative rituals, this essay proposes a reading of Freud’s ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ that questions the presupposition that mourning must come to an end as the completed work of memories recalled only to be sent off. While melancholia may be presented as the invention of an imaginary loss, would not the real pathology of mourning be the summary or precipitous declaration of its end? Whether we understand mourning as completable in itself or as impossibly seeking an asymptote it can never reach, whether the work of mourning is terminal or interminable, the name of the deceased stands as what is left, not only as what is inscribed on a gravestone and outlasting any living memory, but also as the very bounds of memory as sense. Not so much the end of mourning, then, as its reiterative reaffirmation, commemoration comes down to a practice of active mourning, not an ‘end’ but its retreat, its appearing/disappearing as the incessant redrawing of its withdrawal. Not a self-deprecating melancholia, nor the indulgent luxury of nostalgia, but the endless inscription of a name whose loss we can never stop mourning.

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