As centuries pass, diverging meanings of melancholy accumulate and coexist, generating an intriguing, if puzzling, sense of ambiguity and resonance. According to philosophy professor Jennifer Radden, 'Melancholy is both a normal disposition and a sign of mental disturbance; it is both a feeling and a way of behaving. It is a nebulous mood but also a set of self-accusing beliefs.' The medical and scientific systemization of depression focuses these ambiguities to the extent that melancholia and clinical depression (Radden makes no distinctions in terminology) become increasingly distant from the 'contradictory, multifaceted, amorphous, rich and resonant melancholy of past times.' As a kind of homage to its history, Radden has gathered excerpts and texts from some of the most influential sources in the long tradition preceding Freud that introduce conceptual questions about melancholy - what it is, rather than what to do about it. She begins with the humoral theories of the Greek physicians, segueing into the early church fathers and female medieval mystics. Next, she moves on to Renaissance thinkers who devoted whole treatises to melancholy (Ficino, Bright, and Burton), seventeenth and eighteenth-century speculators (Mather, Goethe, and Kant), attempts to explain melancholy with new, naturalistic science, and the literary illustrations of Romantic poets such as Keats and Baudelaire. After Freud, Radden incorporates several classics of early psychiatry from the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth concluding with a selection of the twentieth-century models including loss, cultural causation, and biomedical theories. 373 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
Spanning 24 centuries, this anthology collects over thirty selections of important Western writing about melancholy and its related conditions by philosophers, doctors, religious and literary figures, and modern psychologists. Truly interdisciplinary, it is the first such anthology. As it traces Western attitudes, it reveals a conversation across centuries and continents as the authors interpret, respond, and build on each other's work. Editor Jennifer Radden provides an extensive, in-depth introduction that draws links and parallels between the selections, and reveals the ambiguous relationship between these historical accounts of melancholy and today's psychiatric views on depression. This important new collection is also beautifully illustrated with depictions of melancholy from Western fine art.