Balzac’s Creative Melancholia: Writing the Unconscious Loss Restricted; Files Only

Suh, Jane (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/d217qq601?locale=en
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Abstract

Although “depression” and “melancholia” are often interchangeably used, I intend to differentiate them in order to highlight the creative potential of melancholia. My dissertation is indeed devoted to understanding melancholia and its tie to creativity through an examination of Honoré de Balzac’s works. I argue that Balzac (who suffered from bouts of depression) “reworks” depression into what he calls “melancholia” in La Peau de Chagrin (1830-1831), La Duchesse de Langeais (1834) and Séraphîta (1833-1835). While melancholia shares many characteristics of depression, what distinguishes it from depression is its potential for creativity and survival. In depression, as illustrated in Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin (1830-1831), the subject is devalued by identifying with the disappointing lost loved object, an identification that can lead to suicide. As I show, melancholia transcends the suffering of depression through idealization. In Balzac’s melancholia, an extreme idealization of the object functions indeed as a coping mechanism insofar as this unconscious fantasy fills the hole left by the absence of the object. This idealization, which keeps alive both the lost object and the melancholic subject, is however fueled by ambivalence and rage. While my methodology is informed by psychoanalytic understandings of “melancholia,” I hope to show the invaluable insights that literature contributes to the psychoanalytic understanding of depression and melancholia. Literature will reveal what psychoanalysis cannot.

Table of Contents

Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………..1

CHAPTER I: From Depression to Melancholia: Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin………………...17  

I.) Depression: A Stubborn Hold on Love & The Deflection of Loss…………………...18

II.) Le Lit Dépressif : Fixations on the Lost Maternal Object……………………………23

III.) The Motherly Aspect of the Ideal…………………………………………………...40

IV.) Suicide or the Sublime Poetry of Depression……………………………………….50

V.) Pauline: The Melancholic Object……………………………………………………56

                                                      

CHAPTER II: Decapitation as Melancholic Ambivalence……………………………………...73

I.) The Nobility (Or, The Head of the Nation)…………………………………………..75

II.) Une Femme de Tête…………………………………………………………………83

III.) Ne Touchez Pas À La Hache………………………………………………………101

IV.) « Une Vraie Femme »……………………………………………………………..105

V.) Destruction of the Ideal Object…………………………………………………….114

 

CHAPTER III: A Soul Drowned in Light: Mystical Melancholia and the Immateriality of the Object………………..122

I.) The Non-Object “Object” of Melancholia as Mystical “Light”…………………….126

II.) Blank Melancholia as Mystical Annihilation………………………………………153

III.) Filling in the Blanks: Writing to Live……………………………………………..165

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY……………………………………………………………………………...183

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