Monday, November 21, 2016



"Melancholy is big contemplative utopia."

I think it was Lisa Robertson who first made me see melancholy as a pining for utopia, a perfect kind of longing. I felt it acutely on the morning of Donald Trump's election, when months of depression seemed, if only for a moment, to lift. The image of Kirsten Dunst in Lars von Trier's Melancholia came to mind. Through most of the film, her depression makes her at times apathetic, at times erratic. But as the (literal) end of the world draws nigh, she finds her pith and moment. She takes charge and shepherds her family serenely into the apocalypse. Likewise, when Trump was elected, my melancholy revealed itself as clarity. Unlike the shocked commentariat, I felt I understood exactly what was happening and knew precisely what to do; unlike Hillary Clinton, I had something to say.

Melancholy is big contemplative utopia. It is a system that functions to pose a seemingly boundless cognitive space where transformation, never a neutral event, always a grievance or an astonishment, can claim potential. Transformation may include decay, multiplication, reversal, inflation or minification, fragmentation or annexation, plus all the Ovidian modalities. But it is not possible to calculate which, or in what sequence. […] Melancholy is a latent or paused anticipation of something necessarily unknowable, where the latency is not passive, but an experimental site for non-identity. (Lisa Robertson, "Perspectors/Melancholia" in Nilling, p. 51)

Melancholics do not dream wishfully of the Apocalypse. They live in the nightmare of its slowly grinding gears. The same "machinery of transition" is seen by their fellows on the Left and the Right as evil in its parts but necessary on the whole. Their variously "progressive" and "conservative" policies are offered to move it forward or hold it back, but invariably assume that it will keep running. Melancholics are utopian because they perceive its underlying contingency. In their hearts, they know it will run its course. Their eye is to the fixed stars that remain aloof to the collision of planets. When the End comes, they keep their head because they haven't lost their perspective.

*Picture from

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