The first section of my essay develops new theories concerning the role of eating in successful mourning. Since the loss of a loved one revivifies the original loss of symbiosis, eating with its incorporative identifications alleviates both loses. We incorporate the loved ones and with them inside of us we are "pregnant."
The final three sections all consider arenas where mourning fails. Section two explores anorexia and necrophilia, showing how boundary problems can lead to failed mourning and melancholia. Section three studies serial killers, showing how failed incorporations render them melancholic. Section four looks at fiction and film, where the failure to incorporate leads beyond melancholia to death.
Ultimately this essay demonstrates both that each of these "texts" informs the others, and that my new theories of mourning and melancholia give us an understanding of these texts which, in turn, expands our knowledge of our human problems with incorporative identifications.
In 1621 Robert Burton saw melancholy as "an inbred malady in every one of us" (8). In 1999 Francis Zimmerman called it "the character of human nature" (107). But in between Burton and Zimmerman, there have been centuries of disagreement --disagreement both over whether melancholy is essential to human nature and over the essential nature of melancholy itself. We cannot even decide whether it is melancholy or melancholia, clinical depression or complicated grief. Even psychoanalytic critics, for example, who have come the furthest, travel radically different routes. From Freud and Abraham to Kristeva and Silverman, theories abound. Sure, there are some areas of consensus: most agree that melancholia has something to do with incorporation, for example, but not only do they disagree on what, they do not even agree on whether incorporation is beneficial or not. It is, at least in part, this "diversity" that has turned students of melancholia away from the case studies of psychoanalysis to the "case studies" of literature. And here there is agreement. Many concur with Klienmann and Good's suggestion that we should learn of melancholia through literature since "the most telling expressions of melancholia are found in romance and poetry" (111). I, myself, agree--to a point. Literature can help us with melancholia, but I also feel that those psychoanalytic case studies that have been de-emphasized along the way are helpful too. Indeed, I will be looking at psychoanalytic studies of melancholia, anorexia and necrophilia, along with literature, film, and anthropological studies of cannibalism because each informs each, and together they suggest old compatibilities in, and new insights into, the study of melancholia. Indeed, I will show both how these texts suggest new insights into melancholia and successful mourning based on the trauma of birth, oral incorporation, and symbolic pregnancy, and how these new insights, can help us with the very texts which suggested them.
It's best to begin with compatibilities, incorporations--and a few anthropological case studies. Most scholars agree that melancholia is in some way failed mourning; that it is difficult to deal with because it involves some sort of layered density; that it entails a regression to the oral; and that this regression, in turn, entails--or does not--an identification with the lost object through incorporation. Abraham is on the side of does not. He believes that melancholia does not entail an incorporative identification, and that it fails because it doesn't. Mourning, on the other hand, is successful, for Abraham, because it does achieve an incorporative identification with the lost object (436-38). Freud disagrees. "Mourning and Melancholia" stresses that melancholics cannot mourn because they cannot free themselves from the lost object, and they can't free themselves from the lost object because they've incorporated it (14:249-56). And even though it was Freud who named the arena where all this transpires "the cannibalistic phase," cannibals, by insisting on the efficacy of incorporation, align themselves with Abraham--and my grandmother. My primitive knowledge of mourning was that my grandmother was okay because she still had Gramps "in here." Grandma was pointing to her heart, but still, she was within a foot of the endocannibals, whose stomachs, as anthropologists say quite frequently, are their cemeteries because their mourning concludes with the devouring--the literal incorporation--of the dead. An Amahuaca woman, mourning her daughter, is paradigmatic. "The mother continued to mourn [for nine days] until she had consumed the last vestigages of the infant, whereupon her attitude changed radically [. . . ]. She became voluble and happy, with no suggestion of her bereavement" (Dole 569). At some primitive level, literal incorporation works. Abraham is right; mourning is successful; melancholia is avoided. The Guayaki explain that they eat the corpses of relatives to avoid pakryra ia--"very great anxiety, anguish" (Clastres 316). Otto Fenichel might have to tell us--and Freud--that "[t]he refusal to eat is not only the most widespread symptom of melancholia; it is a concomitant of every depression" (389). But he doesn't have to tell the Guayaki.
Still, it must be noted that Fenichel is suggesting that what helps the mourning process is eating, not eating the dead. But much like Grandma, we're only a few displacements away from the deceased. The culinary trip from endocannibalism to "civilization"--from deceased loved ones to cows placed next to their corpses, to cakes with their images stamped on them, to cakes without, to ritual foods, to the funeral dinner--is nowhere near as lengthy as some would have it. In any case, the Guayakai eat the lost object, Grandmother eats a symbolic dinner, but both get through the mourning process. So while both suggest that eating can help subvert melancholia, we must look at those who have problems with the mourning process to see how mourning slips into melancholia and why melancholia is both so prevalent and so complex.
"The Development Of The Libido," Karl Abraham's most instructive discussion of mourning and melancholia, introduces a patient whose wife and infant die, after an emergency Caesarian section, before he can even reach the hospital. The patient stays away from therapy for a while, but upon his return he struggles with mourning. Abraham notes, "One of the most striking mental phenomena exhibited by him [. . .] was a dislike for eating which lasted for weeks" (435-36). This disinclination disappears abruptly one evening and the patient eats a good meal:
That night he had a dream in which he was present at the post-mortem on his late wife. The dream was divided into two contrasting scenes. In the one, the separate parts of the body grew together again, the dead woman began to show signs of life, and he embraced her with feelings of the liveliest joy. In the other scene the dissecting-room altered its appearance, and the dreamer was reminded of slaughtered animals in a butcher's shop. (436)
Abraham adds that the patient brought out "the remarkable fact" that the dissected body in the dream reminded him of his meal of the evening before, especially the meat course. Abraham proceeds to interpret parallel actions in the dream, showing how, "consuming the flesh of the dead wife is made equivalent to restoring her to life" and how this consummation allows the patient to work through mourning by consoling himself with, " 'my loved object is not gone for now I carry it within myself and can never lose it' " (437). And, while I do agree, I am more interested here in what Abraham does not say. After all, as he himself notes, Róheim and Groddeck had already suggested that loss can be recouped through cannibalistic incorporative identification (437-444). So throughout "The Development Of The Libido" it is the other half of Abraham's theory--namely that loss triggers "a repetition of an original infantile traumatic experience" (456)--that is innovative and compelling. Abraham deftly stresses that immediate loss revivifies, unconsciously, the loss of the breast. And all of Abraham's other melancholics demonstrate this revivification. One feels better when he drinks milk handed him by his mother, another fantasizes about himself nursing, yet another can cope with his mother's death because she died on his breast. Abraham insists on the urgency of coming to terms with both the lost object and the lost breast in each case study--except with the Caesarean patient.
I would like to suggest that this exception leads to an essential aspect of melancholia that has never been considered. Abraham says, "Once the libido has relinquished its object-relations [as it does in melancholia] it seems to glide rapidly downwards from one level to the next" (433); he, as we've seen, also says loss can trigger "an original infantile traumatic experience." I would say that the Caesarean patient has glided further down, further back, past the breast to the original infantile traumatic experience. Birth. Abraham does not consider the lost breast here because there isn't any. And he tosses out the baby with the analysis; he never considers the patient's lost child, let alone the lost pregnancy. But the patient's dream, itself "divided into two," has "slaughtered animals" in the butcher shop because the dreamer incorporates dead wife and dead baby. In the dreamer's stomach/tomb, symbiosis can be eternalized, just as it was in the first of the two halves that make one dream, when "the separate parts of the body grew together again." After all, the only two parts there ever really were were mother and child. The dream, then, in both content and form, puts the parts back together. It redresses the loss of the womb, taking the dreamer back to fusion. And this is no exception. Abraham feels that loss reactives the loss of the breast, and, yes, the lost breast, the cannibalistic phase, is indeed essential to melancholia, but the lost breast is still one downward glide away from bedrock. Case after case, story after story, demonstrates that loss reactivates the trauma of birth, the original loss. Even as Abraham stresses the oral, the lost womb is never too far away. The patient whose mother died on his breast, for example, began to have problems when he lost the old house that he was born in, and while Abraham sees the house as a mother symbol, we can see that the truth here is actually a synecdoche away.
Abraham's failure to pick up on the relationship between melancholia and lost symbiosis is not unique among commentators. Consider Julia Kristeva. Even though three of her four melancholic analysands in Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia get, or fantasize about being, pregnant, even though one sees her fetus as her mother, another sees her pregnant self as her mother, and the other's "desire for a child [is] revealed as narcisstic desire for lethal fusion" (89)--still Kristeva will never comment directly on the role of lost symbiotic fusion in melancholia. Never directly. But she can, repeatedly, be oh so suggestive: "those [for example] in despair are mystics--adhering to the preobject, not believing in Thou, but mute and steadfast devotees of their own inexpressible container" (14). Kristeva would herself be less mystic if she would just express what container. But that's Kristeva's way. The way of other theororists is to use the generic "separation from mother" when discussing melancholia, without ever expressing whether it is loss of breast, loss of womb, loss of unconditional love, or the junior prom. Myron Hofer's psychobiolic study of grief demonstrates that "infant responses to maternal separation closely resemble adult responses to bereavement" (184). Hofer is especially important to us because he finds that one of the resemblances between grieving adults and separated infants is anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, is important because it suggests that the way in which bereavement is related to symbiosis is more complicated than Abraham's concept of the libido gliding rapidly downward.
Like the Guayaki, who, as we have seen, eat the corpses of relatives to get beyond "very great anxiety, anguish," most scholars agree that anxiety is part of bereavement. I believe that both anxiety and bereavement are residues of the birth trauma. Certainly anxiety is. Even Freud, who seldom looked so far back, felt that "the act of birth [was . . .] the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety" (20:84). And it is not just the anxiety in bereavement that goes back to birth. Bereavement itself goes back to birth. Loss in the present takes us back to the first loss, birth, the source and prototype of loss and the source for the primitive prototype of bereavement. What is felt in the present is anguish and anxiety; what is lost is the love object and symbiosis. But when all goes well we are more aware of the love object and anguish than we are of symbiosis and anxiety, because Freud was also right when he asserted that mourning tends to be conscious, while melancholia tends to be unconscious (14:245). But "while" is the very word. Mourning and melancholia do not occur separately as Freud felt; they are concurrent. We "mourn" the lost object and symbiosis, but when all goes well, the normalcy of mourning--grief and anguish, the loved one and the present--tend to remain conscious, while the morbidities of melancholia--fear and anxiety, symbiosis and the past--tend to remain unconscious. So all we witness is a mourning that leads back to life.
Before we explore what happens when all doesn't go well, when we witness the morbidities of melancholia becoming conscious, we must stress how, while mourning and melancholia are indeed simultaneous, incorporation can take us beyond both simultaneously. Fenichel says that incorporation is experienced as impregnation (398), and this means that the funeral dinner does it all. As we eat, we experience a cannibalistic incorporative identification with the lost object, and this very incorporation makes us "pregnant," allowing us to identify with, to revivify, lost symbiosis. So what I wish to insist upon is that eating helps us deal with both the immediate and the unconscious loss, allowing us to deal with and ultimately move beyond both mourning and melancholia. It's not stomach/tomb; it's stomach/womb/tomb. Abraham's Caesarean case was emblematic. What was lost was pregnancy, mother and fetus. Lost symbiotic fusion was not suggested by death; lost symbiotic fusion was death--the latent was manifest. This case study which actualized the symbolic, gave birth to my theories because it was paradigmatic and relatively direct. But to see these theories in practice, we must return to the primitive. The Kango-Lari, for example, remove the lost object entirely. Right after birth they bury the placenta and umbilicus, the emblems of lost symbiosis, and they plant a tree at the burial site. When the tree grows to produce fruit, only the child born of the umbilicus may eat it (Samba 96). Symbiosis to umbilicus to earth to tree to fruit to child: through incorporative identification with symbiosis, the child, like Abraham's patient, becomes pregnant with pregnancy. The child, the tree and the fruit--three birthings are incorporated. Birth itself, the loss that precipitates civilization towards melancholia, is ingested and transcended. And no one has to die.
But when there is death, anthropology provides numerous instances of incorporations which entail both displaced cannibalism and symbolic symbiosis--and lead to successful mourning. Consider just a few. When a Batusi dies, a cow is killed by the grave; then the mourners eat the cow, and the chief mourner wears the cow's hide for two months, during which time he can not enter the presence of the King (Roscoe 198). Here the symbiotic incorporations proliferate. The chief mourner is enwombed in the hide of the maternal cow. When the cow is placed by the grave of the deceased, it becomes both the deceased and the corpse in the grave--itself another symbiosis. So when the mourners eat the cow, they incorporate mother, the deceased, and symbiosis, as they--especially the already enwombed chief mourner--reactivate prenatal fusion at numerous levels. The Batesu have a slightly different ritual. They wrap the corpse in the cow's hide, thereby creating a visual representation of the symbiosis they attain by eating the cow (Roscoe 95). Internalizing the displaced representation of the deceased, they "become" cow and corpse, so that the symbolic corpse is inside the literal mourners, and the literal corpse is wrapped inside the symbolic mourners. The Berawa have a ritual that seems radically different. After their husbands' deaths, Berawan widows spend ten days in the confining "prison of mats," unable to stand or lie down, expressly forbidden to straighten their legs while sitting, and, forced fetal, they only drink "sagox [. . .] , grey and watery, suggestive of the corruption overtaking the corpse" (Metcalf 105). And while the Berawan widows might have a tougher time of it, like the Batusi and the Batesu, their rituals of mourning, their ways of avoiding the anxiety and anguish of pakryra ia, clearly depend on incorporative identification and symbolic symbiosis.
To begin making our way from mourning to melancholia, success to failure, let's look to Polynesia where incorporation and symbiosis seem to be a far cry from the cornerstones of successful mourning. In Polynesia, people who have touched a corpse cannot touch food; they must be fed by others, "as if they were helpless infants." If they do touch food, some believe they will go bald and lose their teeth, while others believe that they will "swell up and die" (Frazer 240). I've been saying that the solution to the riddle of successful mourning is to identify with the lost object and symbiosis through oral incorporation--to eat and swell up. The Polynesians say that's the problem. And while the unconscious can reconcile oppositions, it does seem like the Polynesians are putting the taboo before the totem. Why? One answer is fairly obvious: taking the corpse to food with a direct touch cuts too close to the bone--it takes this particular society too close to cannibalism. We too would feel some anxiety over bringing the corpse to our food. Each society represses, displaces and symbolizes at its own pace, and while a study of the particulars here is beyond the scope of this paper, the Polynesians still raise some interesting questions once we see that the move towards not eating brings with it prohibitions which, in turn, provoke the anxiety of melancholia. We must again ask why. Is it a problem with symbolization? The Polynesians seem to take incorporation's "swelling up" literally. Is it a problem with annihilation? The Polynesians, like Abraham's melancholic patients, can go back to the oral, eating like "helpless infants," but no further--symbiosis and swelling up augurs death. Is it a problem with feminization? Since to swell up, to be pregnant, is to be female, tellingly the Polynesians associate swelling up with two of Freud's most basic representations of castration--loss of teeth and loss of hair. It is also telling that only the Berawan women mourn with the prison of mats and sagox. And while we must wait for a bit to see what the pursuit of these questions can tell us, clearly the questions are interesting. When it comes to mourning and melancholia, the Polynesians, with their prohibitions which distance them from the corpse and lead to melancholia, have more to tell us than my Grandmother whose symbolic incorporations have gotten her beyond both taboos and totems.
But to listen attentively to specific narratives, we must first consider generally how mourning becomes melancholia. We must look at what can go wrong. Mourning depends on identification/incorporation/ingestion--"eating the dead" and being "pregnant." Mourning collapses into melancholia, the unconscious level takes control, when people do not eat, and people do not eat when they do not want to eat the dead or they do not want to be pregnant. When mourners cannot eat, we must first say that, like the Polynesians, their signifier is probably too close to their signified. But then we must add that, as with the Polynesians, there's more going on here than problems with symbolization. Indeed, I think that if we look at the cannibals in light of Melanie Klein's theories, we will see that melancholics do not eat the dead for much the same reason that affectionate cannibals do. Cannibals don't just eat their loved ones; they knock out their teeth, break their limbs, keep their heads in jars, wear their jawbones around their necks; they leave food on their graves, they cut themselves and bleed over the corpse and the food. And the Kol begin to show us why when they admit that they leave food out so that the souls of the dead can get something to eat without hurting someone (Van Gennep 151). The hedge here between getting food and "hurting" is fairly transparent: the Kol leave food out so that the dead will eat it and not them. One reason, that is, that affectionate cannibals eat their dead is so their dead can't eat them. The melancholic does not eat anything because as Klein says, like begets retributive like in the unconscious: try to eat the dead and you're toast.
This is one reason why melancholics cannot get "pregnant"--and well. To dare to incorporate is to risk being incorporated. Melancholics, like Bartleby, would prefer not to. But, there are other reasons why melancholics cannot risk symbiosis, reasons deeper and darker, constructing a kind of Catch-22 where symbiosis is both the solution and the problem. One quick look back at our six melancholics--Abraham's three males, the house man, the nursing man, and the milk man; Kristeva's three females, the foetus/mother woman, the daughter/mother woman and the lethal fusion woman--is enough to suggest that melancholics feel themselves a bit too close to mother. Indeed, most melancholics seem haunted by mother and the threat of lethal fusion with her. But there are numerous etiologies for this. Some melancholics cannot be "pregnant" because to be pregnant is to be mother, and to be mother is to lose one's self. Others cannot swallow mother, because they long to be swallowed by her; they cannot be the mother in the mother/foetus dyad, because they have never really gotten beyond being the foetus. In order to understand how these boundary problems which cluster around mother function in melancholia, I want to focus on two mental illnesses which involve both mother and melancholia. Anorexia and necrophilia.
But it is not startlingly innovative to associate anorexia and melancholia. In 1895 Freud was saying, "the famous anorexia nervosa of young girls seems to me (on careful observation) to be a melancholia where sexuality is undeveloped" (1:200). Since then many have said that anorexia is a boundary problem caused by insufficient distance from mother; some have said that anorexics don't eat so they won't eat--and be eaten by--mother; and a few have said that the fear of pregnancy is a motivating factor for anorexia. Just what I said--about melancholia. I think the parallels here, parallels that I do find startling, warrant a closer look at the anorexia/melancholia association. So, to enforce these parallels, to suggest how they might be used to learn more about melancholia and anorexia, and to hint at the difficulty of determining what allows for the incorporative identification of successful mourning--consider a particularly detailed case study.
Ms. K. came to Dr. S. Louis Mogul for help, not with anorexia or melancholia, but with obsessive fears "of great harm befalling her lover when she was apart from him," which, in turn, reawakened "similar thoughts [in childhood] during separation from [. . .] her mother." Ms. K., who was twenty-one and living with her lover, had a father who "was too much under her mother's domination, bumbling and ineffective," and "a cold and controlling mother" who "made me [K. says] completely dependent on her and then criticized and nailed me for it." K. was a vegetarian with "a fear of enjoying food," but she had never had an eating disorder. Two of the sources of happiness in her somewhat depressing childhood were "the black cook, Cora, fat and warm" and "achieving the status of a tomboy." Indeed, after her status as a tomboy was "shut off," she left home "to avoid being sucked into the whirlpool of dependence and identification with her mother's hated way of life." After one and a half years of a therapy that had helped her with her obsessive fears, her problems with food, and her sex life, she applied to graduate school in psychology because of "her fascination with her analysis and her identification with [Mogul]." She was turned down and that's when her real problems began. First, she had "gorging" rituals; then she got pregnant; then, repulsed by the physicality of pregnancy--"from morning sickness to swollen breasts"--, she had an abortion. Then she went through two years of anorexia, where "apart from the thrill of losing weight, her only real pleasure [. . .] was to stand on an ocean beach and have the cold North-Atlantic waves pound her frail and always chilled body." During this time, the patient struggled through the separations necessitated by Mogul's vacations, and after one vacation, she announced that Cora was dying of cancer. After a month, Cora died; then, somewhat surprisingly, K. "began a real push to gain weight and three months later her periods returned." She got
pregnant, had children, separated from Mogul--and, she went on to live a happy family orientated life (73-85).
I'd like to begin here by suggesting that this story of anorexia can be read as a story of loss and mourning: it begins with loss, ends with loss, and the anorexia itself is triggered by loss. Indeed, reading K's narrative by the light of our theories on mourning highlights some revealing plot twists. Twists like mourning can cure anorexia! When K. loses Cora, her need for the incorporative identification of mourning--her need to eat--actually cures her anorexia. She eats and wins. Perhaps a study of the role of loss and mourning in anorexia could help more people win. Look how our theory of lost symbiosis, for example, helps with K. Her original symptom, obsessive fears concerning her lover when they were separated, was based, Mogul tells us, on childhood fears of great harm befalling her mother when K. was separated from her. Well, by now we can see that childhood separation anxieties are based on birth. But Mogul did not make this connection, just as he did not pursue the symbiotic suggestions of K's oceanic bliss and her fears of being sucked back into the whirlpool of maternal identification. He never even asked what great harm would befall the lost mother. But we know--and so do the Guayaki. And once we suspect that K. desires to avoid pakryra ia by cannibalizing mother, keeping mother with her, inside her, forever; that the "great harm" K. "fears" would befall her mother when they are separated actually comes from her own oral rage at abandonment; that manifest fear defends against latent desire--we can then answer other questions. First, why is she a vegetarian? Second, why is she frustrated by "a fear of enjoying food"? Ultimately, why doesn't all this avoidance work? First, K is a vegetarian because mother is meat. Second, fear is a defense against desire; ultimately, in some sense, to eat is to eat mother, so whether K. enjoys her steak or loathes her cabbage, she's guilty of eating mother and she's vulnerable to retaliation. Anorexia is inevitable. Driven by her desires for--and fears of--oral incorporative identification, until Cora dies, K. seems to have little choice.
But we do. Even as a story of loss, there is another reading. There is another loss here that directly triggers K.'s anorexia. She loses the opportunity to go to graduate school, goes through a "gorging" stage, gets pregnant and anorectic, feels too physical, gets an abortion, stays anorectic. If the way to redeem loss is to eat and get "pregnant," then K. with her gorging stage certainly gives it a try. But like the Polynesians, she takes "swelling up" too physically, too literally: she actually gets pregnant. It's all supposed to work symbolically, latently. To see why it does not work here, we must first see what K. is mourning--or rather since mourning is not successful, we must try to see what has made her melancholic. Luce Irigaray and Kaja Silverman would not pause long here, because they see melancholia as the natural state of all women, "[locating] the inception of woman's melancholia at the castration complex" (Silverman 155). And while I might question the generalization, I do feel that K.'s loss of masculine identification is the inception of her melancholia and her anorexia. She wants to be a psychologist because she identifies with Mogul, and she needs this identification because a "bumbling and ineffective" father cannot get you beyond a "cold and controlling" mother. So her rejection from graduate school, like the "shut off" of her tomboy stage, propels her back towards mother, who, tellingly, had always wanted to be a psychologist, but could not. K. is--in every sense--trapped in a chicken/egg dilemma. She cannot handle loss because she is too close to mother, yet each loss takes her closer. We have seen that you must eat your losses, identify with symbiosis, and get on with it. But literal pregnancy is just what K. does not need; it's just more mother. Clearly K. intuits this, but "morning" sickness cannot help with physical pregnancy. She can regurgitate food, but not babies. She can, however, abort babies and stay anorectic--both desperate attempts to be "not mother."
Chronologically, K.'s failed masculine identification began with father, "bumbling and ineffective," and this is important because it suggests that just as melancholia can help us with anorexia, anorexia can help with melancholia. Bumbling and ineffective fathers are standard fare in many studies of anorexia, and much of the work done there can help us understand melancholia. Anorexia studies have shown, for example, that ineffective or absent fathers frustrate masculine identification, keeping future anorectics in the realm of the mother, and impeding their symbolization process. Literature confirms these studies.
After all, we have Bartleby--Bartleby who never eats and has been labeled by scholars both melancholic and "a classic case of depression" (Bluestone 49). So I would like to look at Bartleby to suggest how my new theories on melancholia can offer new insights to what has come to be known as "the Bartleby industry" by providing new answers to some old literary questions. But before we get to why Bartleby--or Hamlet--prefers not to, there is a question, still, of the relevance of these theories here. What, after all, has Bartleby lost? It could have been his job at the Dead Letter Office; it could have been his family; it could have been his appetite. At the manifest level, we can't tell. Unlike case studies, most literary texts foreclose manifest loss and suppress latent loss, and without the deceased or symbiosis to guide us, we frequently begin with merely a vague sense of mystery and melancholia. But the fact that Bartleby ends dead in the foetal position--"strangely huddled at the base of a wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side" (44)--suggests we're on the right track. And while the specifics we have considered can help us with "Bartleby" (Bartleby's screened off enclave, for example, seems a lot like the Berawran "prison of mats"), our general theories, accentuated by the melancholic's penchant for puns and Bartleby's ultimate return to mother, can actually allow us to understand his refrain, the refrain of melancholia, "I would prefer not to." Bartleby would, most assuredly, prefer not two! If symbiosis is anything, it's one, not two. Bartleby starves himself foetal to recoup the womb in the tomb, to get back to one.
So it is especially ironic, and telling, that Melville's narrator sees Bartleby asleep, not with mother, but "with kings and counselors" (45). And the context of this Biblical reference insists on the irony. In Job 3:10-14, Job is bewailing the day of his birth, the day one was made two, because "it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb." If her knees and breasts hadn't prevented him from "[giving] up the ghost when [he] came out of the belly," he now would sleep "with kings and counselors of the earth." The ironies accrue, since both Job, who wishes the womb's doors would shut him in, and Bartleby, who dies foetal, are about as close to kings as the Batusi who, mourning in the cow's hide, could not be in the king's presence. All are "enthralled" by those open doors of mother's womb. All mourn--the very word Job uses 2 verses earlier--the day of their birth, the day of lost symbiosis. But the Batusi ritualize, mourn, identify, and transcend. The mourner in the cow's hide can come into the king's presence after two months, but Bartleby is behind the screen forever. He doesn't get any closer to kings in life than he does in death. So in one sense Nancy Blake is right when she concludes "that Bartleby plays the feminine role in this story" (167). But Bartleby does try. He is maternally identified--anorexic and melancholic--because he cannot find a "father" to identify with; he too cannot find a father who is not bumbling and ineffective. But he does look--he looks to the narrator and tries to incite him to action. Bartleby, that is, is so aggravating because he prefers to be so aggravating. Looking for a strong male presence, he wants to provoke the narrator into retaliating with something like, "the devil with prefer, you have 'to'." But the narrator can only fantasize violence and murder; he never retaliates. And what we learn from Melville's text is why bumbling fathers cannot get you beyond mother, why they cannot be man enough to offer the son the possibility of individuation associated with the phallus and the threat of castration. As the narrator himself says, both he and Bartleby are "sons of Adam"--and that's the problem.
All we have are sons; there are no fathers. The narrator, rendered "impotent" and "unmanned" (27) by Bartleby, retreats in his rockaway when his desires are frustrated. And it is appropriate that Dan McCall conflates rock a way and womb (108), because Bartleby's narrator regresses to fusion when the going gets tough. How can he help Bartleby, when he can't even help himself? The narrator is too lost in what he tellingly calls his "fraternal melancholy" (28) to be paternal and rescue Bartleby from his melancholia. Not even Bartleby can provoke men like this. So Bartleby is left with puns, words which transform two into one, and what Blake calls holophrases, "_expression which is not decomposable" (157), while the narrator is left to mourn Bartleby. Even though the narrator has gotten beyond holophrases, his language, "Bartleby the Scrivener" itself, is, as "with kings and counselors" suggests, a series of projective repressions. And since he spells "counselors" with one "l", while King James uses two, it seems that the narrator too prefers not two. In any case, he doesn't get any closer to kings than Bartleby did, so the narrator is doomed to rock away his life in melancholia, and end up, not with kings and counselors, but with tomb and womb.
It is not just that the narrator and Bartleby do not eat, or do not go through the mourning process, or even that they do not know what to mourn. They just do not seem to care. They are lost in melancholia, albeit "fraternal," because they prefer not to know what is lost. And while I feel that this is frequently true when anorexia is associated with melancholia, it is definitely not true with necrophilia. The necrophilic wants to know. And necrophilia is certainly relevant to our theories on melancholia and mourning, incorporation and symbiosis because necrophilia is desire for the dead; necrophiliacs are renowned eaters; and there is certainly precedent in Edward Tauber's "Symbiosis, Narcissism, Necrophilia." Indeed, early psychoanalysis linked necrophilia with mourning gone awry. In 1910 Ernest Jones divided necrophilia into two forms. The first "appears to be little more than an extension of the part played by love in mourning, the frantic aversion against accepting the event and parting forever from the loved being" (111). In the second form "the person obtains gratification with any corpse [. . .] by performing some sort of sexual act on the corpse, or, more characteristically, by biting, tearing, and devouring its decaying flesh" (111). Since Jones, scholars have presented various other categorizations of necrophilia, but almost every one agrees on its range. Necrophilia includes everything, as Jones suggests, from the melancholic denial of death to cannibals gone berserk, everyone from the man who wants his wife to lie still during sex to Jeffery Dahmer. Anorexia is primarily about women not eating, and while in one sense necrophilia--men eating with a vengeance--seems to be the opposite of anorexia, necrophilia has so many other senses. So it is somewhat surprising that there is more critical consensus about necrophilia than anorexia.
Analysts do not just agree that necrophilia is about denial; almost all commentators focus on libido and aggression, power and control, ambivalence and anxiety. And, yes, like Jones, they talk about loss and incorporation, and what they say is relevant here, but there are two other recurring concerns in necrophilia studies that, when analyzed and expanded, can help even more with my theories of loss and incorporation. The first is that necrophiliacs conflate manifest and latent loss: for them every corpse is mother. The second is that necrophilia is, in fact, the exploration of the body of the mother. Let us begin with every corpse being mother, where Sidney Pomer's patient is paradigmatic. "To him every cadaver, regardless of sex, was the mother at various levels, now preoedipal, now oedipal, who allowed him to explore, penetrate and investigate" (54). And Calef and Weinschel's theory is typical. "What distinguishes the necrophilic fantasy from the other varieties of 'return to the mother' fantasy is that the love object (the mother) is dead" (69). But what Calef and Weinschel call the necrophilic fantasy, return to the dead mother, is actually no more precise than the "separation from mother" that we have seen Hofer use, so it is not surprising that critics ignore the tomb/womb association implicit in the fact that the mother is dead, and remain divided on whether the necrophilic is in search of the preoedipal maternal breast or the oedipal object of desire. To suggest that it is ultimately neither, that ultimately the necrophilic too is looking for lost symbiosis, we must look at one of the many case studies where both oral and oedipal explanations fall short, and we must consider our second recurring concern in necrophilia studies.
Calef and Weinshel present a necrophilic whose sexual intercourse involved four "impressively regular" stages. First, imagining his partner as both inert and edible. Second, fellatio and "especially cunnilingus [which . . .] involved the fantasy of 'getting into' the sexual object, ultimately the maternal body." Third, intercourse followed by "a feeling of something 'incomplete.'" Fourth, "a ritualistic 'raiding of the ice box,' usually with a cup of warm milk" (72). This patient remains "incomplete," before and after his hot milk, before and after his desperate--and desperately oral--attempt for fusion. And the "impressive regularity" of it all stresses the fact that incorporating and being incorporated, oral and genital, all fail. The lost maternal body remains lost. For this patient, food is not the answer. So we must ask why he can't just eat and identify like the Guayaki. The answer is both complicated and revealing. Necrophiliacs eat, but even their eating is eroticized because they cannot transform libido into identification, the transformation that Freud says is de rigueur for successful mourning. The patient's cunnigulus here with the "edible" partner is telling because it is accompanied by the fantasy of getting into the maternal body. The necrophilic who sees himself as "getting into" mother, even in the process of getting mother into him, is too concerned with being incorporated by mother, and this is the incorporation that Kristeva says is lethal. The necrophilic not only looks in all the wrong places--maternal breast, oedipal object; when he does look towards symbiosis, he reverses the incorporation. But at least he's looking, looking to know. Calef and Weinshel conclude that this patient's "dissatisfaction was the consequence of the recognition that the aim of entering and exploring the maternal body was not 'really' achieved" (72).
"[E]ntering & exploring" takes us back to Pomer's patient who wanted to "explore, penetrate, investigate", and these descriptions together take us to the second recurring concern in necrophilia studies that we must consider. Many theorists stress the importance of the necrophilic's exploration of the maternal body; some even specify the mother's pregnant body; but only Calef and Weinshel say what the necrophiliac is looking for, and they say that it's the maternal phallus. I would say that if "the phallus" represents completion, they are close, because the necrophilic is looking for completion. He is looking for himself in the womb of the mother, struggling to get back beyond loss to pregnancy itself. Calef and Weinshel's patient remembered "his mother's pregnant body silhouetted against the light of the refrigerator as she stood in front of it in a transparent gown" (70). Perfect. The sexy gown may be transparent, but it's a screen nonetheless. In the "light" of the oral, the necrophilic's oedipal desire screens the pregnant mother whom he really wants to get to. When the necrophilic has intercourse with a corpse, he is not just driven by desire, and he is not just seeking incorporation--he is also struggling to simultaneously impregnate and explore. The anorexic speaks the pun; the necrophilic, in his struggle to "know," lives it. But we must remember that, as we've seen, analysts discuss necrophilia in terms of libido and aggression. So sometimes the manifest enactments are more startling than mother in a gown; sometimes the latent frustrations cannot be satiated with a cup of warm milk. But the relationships that we have found between necrophilia and melancholia can still help.
In the summer of 1888, Jack the Ripper was looking too. Necrophilic, cannibalistic--The Ripper was looking for mother. He spent at least two hours with one of his corpses; he ate at least one of his victims' kidneys; and, amazingly, four of his six victims were Ma:Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Catharine Eddowes who signed herself Mary Ann Kelly on the night of her death, and Mary Jane Kelly. Moreover, the Ripper's three month spree tells us something about the necrophilic's quest and the nature of his loss, besides his interest in Ma. From August 7 to November 21, Jack the Ripper regressed from oedipal to preoedipal in two telling ways. First, he moved from the oedipal penetration implicit in stabbing Martha Tabram thirty eight times in "the breasts, belly and private parts" (Begg 229) to the preoedipal wallowing in the body of Mary Jane Kelly that he had ripped open. Second, like this regression itself, his search for mother and symbiosis moved from the symbolization of the oedipal to the literalization of the preoedipal: the first three victims were Earth Mothers, buxom, fleshy and aged; the next two were younger looking, more likely to be mothers; the last victim was pregnant. Calef and Weinshel's patient was "dissatisfied" because exploring the maternal body "was not 'really' achieved," but Jack the Ripper's movement back to the literal and preoedipal allowed him to really do it. With his last victim, the pregnant Mary Jane Kelly, he explored the body of the mother for over two hours, he located the site of loss, he released the rage he felt towards it--and he was satisfied! This man who had kept the uteri of three of his previous victims, finally got back to the right womb, the gravid womb, symbiosis--and he never struck again. Calef and Weinshel's patient stays a patient, necrophilic and melancholic, because he cannot locate the site of loss. In some frighteningly ironic way, The Ripper locates, "mourns," and walks away. Now it might give pause that he walks away with Mary Jane Kelly's heart, but the Guayaki could explain how the missing heart of the last victim is the pièce de résistance in The Ripper's mourning process.
We do not really need the Guayaki, however, because not only does the heart tell the tale, our tale tells the heart. Our awareness of the efficacy of oral incorporation suggests the fate of the missing heart. And I would like to conclude by showing that this is not atypical, by suggesting ways that the new light I've directed at old topics can help illuminate some compelling, albeit somber, subtleties in literature, film--and life. Let's stay with Jack the Ripper for a second because there is still another ma--a ma that has never yet come to light. Recent Ripper critics have discovered an "FM" written on Mary Kelly's wall, and have proposed that the Ripper was James Maybrick who left the bloody initials of the person he was really after, his wife Florence. Since Florence Maybrick's role in the Ripper drama has gone the way of the suspicion that once fell upon her husband, and since the existence of the "F" had always been questioned, I took another look at the infamous picture of Kelly's body. Since ocular proof is essential here, it must be looked at, but when it is, it is relatively clear. There's a mark that, while it could be an "F", is more what my son calls scribble scrabble; then there's a clear and definite capitol "M"; then there's a clear and definite lower case "a." The Ripper did indeed leave behind the name of the person he was really after. Was. He left Ma behind and got on with it.
These theories of incorporative identification can help us do more than read the writing on the wall; they can help us with the printed page too. So I'd like to look at two literary necrophiliacs, one a successful mourner, deservedly notorious, the other a failed mourner, surprisingly obscure, to suggest what we can do for them and what they can do for us. Let us begin in obscurity. Since Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oblong Box" has fewer partisans than even James Maybrick, one of the things we can do for it is to look at some of the subtleties that make it a challenging and rewarding text. But we must start with the obvious: "The Oblong Box" is a portrait of melancholia. On the good ship Independence, Cornelius Wyatt is taking the corpse of his wife back to mother, her mother. Instead of escaping with the others in the lifeboats when The Independence goes down in a storm, Wyatt--with a last sentence that begins, "[b]y the mother who bore you" (931-32)--ties himself to the coffin and plunges to his death in the ocean's depths. Some of what we have said about melancholia seems blatantly relevant here, but there are some subtleties. Wyatt is like Abraham's Cesarean patient: he is trying to reunite mother and child, and, at the same time, since he is the one taking the corpse to mother, he is also trying to reunite mother and himself. And in the storm, as Wyatt and wife are engulfed in the maternal sea, he gets his reunions. But like the necrophiliacs, at what price! Like the necrophiliacs, Wyatt is incorporated, and this is most appropriate because, as one Poe scholar has suggested, Wyatt is himself necrophilic (McMullen 207). Each evening in his "berth" he "mourns" both his dead wife and birth: he opens the coffin with "singular" noises, and lays either the lid or the wife on the bed for a night of "sobbing or sighing" (924). We can't tell whether it's sobbing or sighing because mourning here is inseparable from desire--typical necrophilia. To see how typical, to see how subtle and to see how relevant, we must note that the narrator believes that Wyatt's oblong box contains, not his wife's corpse, but a copy of Leonardo's Last Supper, a copy that each night amidst sobs and sighs Wyatt can "feast his eyes on" (924). The Last Supper is the perfect touch because "Do this in remembrance of me" is the definition of mourning through incorporation. Wyatt's wife should be the last supper, and if she were, if Wyatt could incorporate her, he could be as successful as the Eucharistic mourners; he could avoid being incorporated by and lost in the maternal. But Wyatt can only feast his eyes and sigh--and, like Bartleby, die.
And while our theories of melancholia help us see the irony in "feast his eyes," Poe's phrasing here, like the general tendency of necrophiliacs to explore the body of the mother, suggests that we could consider the role of voyeurism in both necrophilia and melancholia. So too, Poe's story itself, with Wyatt's drive to unite both his dead wife and himself with mother, suggests that we could pursue Otto Rank's insightful theory that mourning can be infected by the mourner's jealousy of the corpse's return to the maternal womb. Both, unfortunately, are beyond the range of this analysis, so we turn to our deservedly notorious necrophiliac, Emily Grierson. All of my students who do their homework know that in "A Rose For Emily," Emily "sleeps" with Homer's corpse, but none can figure out why the smell of his corpse goes away so quickly: "[A]fter a week or two the smell went away" (123). And this is a good example of how our new emphases can help us with old questions. Once we see that Emily has trouble accepting loss, once we see that she wants to keep the dead with her, and once we see that after Homer's disappearance the first thing we hear of her is "she had grown fat (127)"--we know what happened to Homer. And the fact that in light of the theories of mourning presented here, Homer's fate is almost expected, suggests how much these theories can help us with literature, since to my knowledge, no one has even hinted that Emily mourns her lover by incorporating him.
Before we go on to see what other work we can do with the intricacies of both literature and film, let us see how we can work with the intricacies of life, how our theories can help us understand the diabolical and perplexing practices of a mass murderer. One of Phillip Jablonski's killings was a mother and her anorectic daughter; Jablonski probed, prodded and sodomized the mother's corpse; then in his own words, his own slips, his own ellipses, "I ate my . . . eat their food, took a shower, shaved" (Bortnick 119). Then he shot the mother's corpse in the mouth. Inter-disciplinary parallels can help us understand. Jablonski is not only like the cannibals who eat, bathe and cut their hair after "mourning"; he is like Abraham's patient who reunites mother and child in his stomach; and he is necrophiliac, the murdering kind. He kills in order to create loss, and then, like the other necrophiliacs, he "searches" mother for the site of the original loss. Next he eats, and here the confusions/fusions of past and present, him and them--"I ate my . . . eat their food"--emphasize that he rectifies loss, past and present, by uniting him and them. He eats them to make them him and to redeem lost symbiosis on two levels, as mother and child merge in his stomach. Finally, he cleanses himself to get back to life. But--now like the typical melancholic--he can't. He can't just eat his losses and move beyond them because, as the final seemingly superfluous shot to mother's mouth demonstrates, his eating is at best over-determined. And the part of him that eats mother before she can eat him, can never be reassured, so he must keep on shooting. It should come as no surprise that Phillip Jablonski goes on to kill more mothers.
But he does go on. His perverse dramatizations of loss and incorporation allow him to endure. And even though this is horrific in reality, theoretically it must be stressed because, in reality, the ones who make it beyond loss are, for the most part, anonymous people like my grandmother, and the cases studied by psychoanalysis and anthropology; for the rest--especially in literature and film--the choice is merely to go on or not. These people fight an ongoing and ill-fated battle with loss. "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" (Fitzgerald 137, my emphasis)--and as it does here in The Great Gatsby, the past usually has the last word in the stories of loss. But, as with Jablonski, it's food that prolongs the plot. It is incorporation, bolstering the ego with introjects, defending against the disintegration of the self, that keeps us going in the teeth of loss. Jablonski goes on because he eats, so does Calef and Weinshel's ice box raider. In our depictions of loss, food is also the main protagonist. Gatsby, despite his own sumptuous feasts, never eats, and he ends up like Wyatt, dead in the "pool." "Can't repeat the past?" (84) asks Gatsby. Not if you don't eat. At the end of The Awakening, for example, after being traumatized by witnessing birth, "the scene of torture" (109), and then immediately losing Robert, her "lover," Edna Pontellier is very hungry. She wants mother, Philomel's mother, to cook her fish for dinner (112). But as she moves to the beach, her gustatory sensations do not come from fish. "How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! How delicious! She felt like some newborn creature [. . .]" (113). Unfortunately, without food, no matter how delicious it might seem, there will always be the loss of the newborn, the loss that Edna immediately attempts to recoup with her march to the sea. Edna swims out into the ocean that from the "start" had beckoned her with its "mournful lullaby" (8). She demonstrates one last time the inability of her father to save her from lethal fusion, "Edna heard her father's voice" (114); and amidst "the musky odor of pinks" (114), she drowns. Edna sleeps, not with kings and counselors, but with Gatsby and Wyatt--and the fishes.
Edna should've had dinner. It is better to eat the fish, than be the fish that is eaten. You incorporate, you go on; if you do not, you are incorporated. Like the Bundrens in As I Lay Dying, who, after burying mother, eat those bananas and get on with life. On the other hand, Psycho. "You never did eat your lunch, did you?" (14) The first line of Psycho announces a tale of failed incorporation. This is emphasized later in the movie when Norman asks Marion to dine. "Would you have dinner with me? I was just about to myself. [. . .] Just sandwiches and milk" (68, my italics). Although Marion does acquiesce, Norman does not get any closer to dinner than Edna. Marion eats, but Norman does not! Bartleby might say "he was just about 'two', but remained one because he preferred not to eat." Abraham's melancholic, who had to have his glass of milk, might say "oh-oh." And once we see that Psycho is a film of the failed incorporations of melancholia, we can say that Norman's "Well, there's no sense dwelling on our losses" (64) is about as ironic as his more renown "[mother]'s isn't quite herself today" (75), and we should not be surprised at the fusion of Norman, mother's mouth and the primal swamp in the famous penultimate shot. But Psycho is probably the most famous film of melancholia, and one of the many reasons it is, is the complex pathology of Bates's character. Norman is neither woman nor man, but he is both anorexic and necrophiliac--and melancholic. He cannot incorporate the lost mother, and , lost in his mother's clothes, he is, like Bartleby and Edna incorporated. And ultimately, as the conclusion of Psycho shows, obliterated.
Alien, where the characters eat, drink and smoke before the first line is spoken, is another film that declares itself to be about incorporation. And Alien goes a step further, showing how even oral impregnation can go awry. Kane is literally impregnated orally; then after much suffering, a supposed recovery and eating aplenty, an alien foetus explodes out of his chest, leaving Kane, again literally, in pieces--no longer fused. What went wrong is telling. As with the Kango-Lari, the first part of Alien presents no loss but the initial one. The film begins with "Mother," their computer, waking the ship's crew from an extended sleep in their womb-like pods. It begins, that is, with birth, the initial loss. Kane gets up, but he never gets beyond. The first thing he does is light a cigarette and cough; he goes on to say "I feel dead" (4), and, appropriately, he is the only volunteer for "the dangerous mission." But his death drive takes him back to the site of loss. He talks of loss repeatedly, "Lost it. Lost it .[. . .] Where is it? [. . .] I'm losing it" (14, 22). And the mission is the exploration of a pod within a womb within a womb within a blatantly vaginal entrance. Here, Kane, like the necrophiliacs, explores the body of the mother, witnesses the site of loss--and is orally impregnated. But, as Alien stresses, he cannot be cured. Not even becoming a pod can help, because Kane's drive toward annihilation won't be "satiated" until he is podded. But Alien does not just demonstrate how the death drive, the longing to repeat the original state, undercuts all attempts to handle loss; it also shows that you cannot handle loss exclusively in the preoedipal. You need the symbolization of the oedipal--Kane wasn't supposed to really be pregnant. And you need something to mourn, some other loss to help you refocus and force you to cope. So after Kane's death, and, in a sense through Kane's death, which gives them something to mourn, the rest of the crew at least put up a struggle as they move towards the oedipal. Ripley, in fact, overcomes the creature that has cocooned Dallas. Then she leaves "Mother" the computer and what is explicitly referred to as "the mother-ship" (24) behind, and with the cat purring on her lap, she heads back to sexuality and life.
Cat People (1982) is another film where eating, girls are sacrificed to panthers, comes before language. This film shows that even in the oedipal, with desire and sexuality, symbolism and loss, there are no guarantees. Oliver kids Irena, one of the cat people, that "ten minutes is the maximum mourning period for parakeets" (60), but he is only kidding himself. Cat People have some real problems with mourning, no matter what they do. They eat, they have sex, and when in human form, they are always symbolically pregnant with the internalized panther. The film script insists on this "pregnancy" to the point of describing the "placenta" left behind after the transformation into a panther (156), and it insists that this panther is mother to the point of transforming the first mother, in the opening credits, into the first panther. So what we have is two orphans who have incorporated the lost mother/panther and have identified with lost symbiosis. And while it might seem that Paul and Irene are better mourners than the parakeets, our first hint that this is not the case comes with the first panther attack, and takes us back to Wyatt and DaVinci. In Cat People there's a particularly ragged copy of The Last Supper in the office of the whore house where the first panther attack takes place--suggesting that desire corrupts incorporative mourning. To see how, and to see how very complex this all gets, let's look at the second panther attack.
Paul picks up Billie, who will become the lost mother, in, of course, a cemetery, and goes back with her to her room, where he is "unable to perform." Billie consoles him, but Paul counters with, "Every time I pray it won't happen. I don't want to--." Billie responds, "relax, relax, mama make it all better" (95), Billie "goes down on him" (95); it works; Paul transforms into a panther and "incorporates" Billie. On one level it's just like Psycho. When the son desires another woman, the internalized mother, which in this case is the panther, externalizes to destroy the object of desire. At another level it's about who "eats" who. Paul cannot get an erection because he fears incorporation, and when he is incorporated, he has to bolster his self by incorporating with a vengeance. On yet another, more surprising, level this scene is about the incompatibility of mourning and oedipal desire. Billie is the oedipal mother, but she does not make it all better. Paul has incorporated the lost panther/mother and that is healthy, but his desire for mother breaks down his incorporative identification with her. And since this identification was experienced as pregnancy, its breakdown is a birthing--placenta and all. Paul gives birth to the panther, and, with birth and the concomitant loss, it all starts again; now the panther cannot get back to its human mourning state until it incorporates mother one more time. Paul tries to resist desire, sex, and birthing, with that incomplete sentence which speaks volumes with Bartleby's voice, "I don't want to--," but it's hopeless. Cat People shows us that you cannot just get to oedipal desire to mourn, you have to get beyond it.
The inability to get beyond both oedipal desire and loss takes us to the most renown melancholic of them all. Hamlet. And while most scholars do agree that Hamlet's problems are related to desire for the mother and mourning of the father, most of these scholars, following Freud, would probably feel that any theories of mourning would ultimately have little to do with Hamlet, since unconsciously he wants his father dead so that he can possess his mother. But I would like to take a closer look at the melancholic Dane in the light of my theories of mourning and melancholia to show how complex Hamlet's feelings for his parents actually are, to suggest how universal this mourning process is, and to demonstrate that incorporation and symbiosis can provide new insights into the most controversial question in all of literature.
Let's begin with new insights into old issues, with the age old question of why Hamlet waits so long to kill Claudius. Actually with all the groundwork that we have done, the question is not even all that formidable. We can get the answer from Ophelia or Laetres, Rank or Wyatt. Rank, who is the most direct, says, as we have seen, that mourning can be problematized by the mourner's jealousy over the deceased's return to the maternal womb. And Rank's theory explains why Wyatt doesn't bury his wife until he can jump into the sea with her. It explains why Ophelia mourns: not because her father is dead, but because he is buried. "I cannot choose but weep to think that you would lay him i' th' cold ground" (4.5.68-69). It explains why Laertes struggles to keep Ophelia from being buried, until he is buried with her: "'Hold off the earth awhile / till I have caught her once more in mine arms'. [leaps in the grave] 'Now pile your dust on the quick and dead'" (5.1.236-238). And it explains the controversial issue of why Hamlet procrastinates. Hamlet leaps into Ophelia's grave right after Laertes, and well he might, because Hamlet himself is another victim of symbiosis envy. He does not kill Claudius because with Claudius alive, Hamlet's father is "doomed [. . .] to walk the night" (1.5.10). And it is appropriate that Hamlet's father is looking for "treasure in the womb of earth" (1.1.136) since Hamlet fears that once he satiates his father's thirst for revenge, the old king will spend his nights neither walking nor looking, but rather back in the womb which Hamlet himself longs to leap into. Hamlet, then, though seen by many as a second Oedipus, is, at least in some respects, decidedly preoedipal. He even pictures his mother's sexual desire as oral--and threatening. "Why she would hang on him / as if increase of appetite had grown / by what it fed on" (1.2.143-45). And since it is his mother's sexual desire that Hamlet courts, the implicit threat of oral incorporation here reinforces Hamlet's longings for womb/tomb, and his melancholia.
Indeed, it is important to see how often and how precisely Hamlet lives out our new theories of melancholia. With the puns of the anorectic, Hamlet registers his starvation.
Hamlet: Excellent, I' faith, of the chameleon's dish. I eat the air promised
With the suppression of the neurotic, he insists on it. Explaining why he "lacks advancement," Hamlet notes, "Ay, sir, but 'while the grass grows'--the proverb is something musty" (3.2.320-30). Hamlet can't finish the proverb--"the horse starves"--any more than he can say why he doesn't eat. But his unconscious associations show us why even eating of the air is dangerous. "The air bites shrewdly" (1.4.1)! And in one sense it is the biting shrew that keeps Hamlet from eating and mourning. Even when he leaps into Ophelia's grave in order to out-mourn Laertes, Hamlet looks in the wrong direction--to fasting:" 's wounds, show me what thou't do. / Woo 't weep? woo't fight? woo't fast?" (5.1. 261-62). But as Hamlet continues, we see why he was so quick to move to fasting. "[W]oo't tear thyself? / Woo't drink up esill? eat a crocodile?" (5.1.262-63) Hamlet can't mourn because he can't incorporate, and he can't incorporate because of his recurring fears of being incorporated--just try eating a crocodile. So, witnessing the player mourn Hecuba reminds Hamlet of his own inability to mourn, and he expresses this inability in terms so germane to my theories: "Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal peak / like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause" (2.2.551-53, my emphasis).
It is somewhat surprising that Hamlet remains "unpregnant" since he, much like the Batusi, seems aware of the displacements that can lead the mourner from incorporation of the dead to symbiotic fusion and transcendence. "A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm" (4.3.27-28). But even though these lines clearly refer to the incorporation of father, Hamlet himself still cannot progress. He remains melancholic and his melancholia is conveyed in, and explained by, images of brooding and birthing. Claudius says directly, "There's something in his soul O'er which his melancholy sits on brood" (3.1.164). Gertrude's diagnosis is strikingly similar: "This is mere madness; / and thus a while the fit will work on him. / Anon, as patient as the female dove / when that her golden couplets are disclosed, / his silence will sit drooping" (5.1.271-75). But it is not until we hear Horatio say--ostensibly--of Osiric, "This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head" (5.2.178) that the birthing imagery comes together to tell the tale. Hamlet, who wants to put his head in Ophelia's lap is trying to get back to the womb because, like the lapwing which runs away without freeing himself from his shell, Hamlet never gets far enough away from symbiosis. So his melancholy, his silence, is conveyed in terms of brooding and birthing, for the same reason that it is identified directly with the mother bird: for Hamlet, melancholia is mother. "Mere madness," indeed! Hamlet asks Ophelia if she thinks that his search for her lap meant "country matters," but I would think "country maters." Hamlet tells Horatio that "a man's life's no more than to say 'one' " (5.2.74). I'd say that, like Bartleby who prefers not two, Hamlet's life is to stay one. So his ultimate quest is for death and the symbiosis it proffers. His "lament" of his mother's devouring appetites, begins with "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt" (1.2.129), and is actually a lament over "too," and life. Hamlet will not eat and he will not incorporate for the same reason that he will not kill the King: he seeks "the womb of earth." Like Wyatt, he will share; he will kill the King when he himself is dying too, but he won't be excluded. Hamlet wants what he's given Polonius, the consummate longing of the melancholic. "At supper [. . .] not where he eats, but where 'a is eaten" (4.3.18-19). The ultimate destination, the devouring tomb/womb: "Oh proud Death, / what feast is toward in thine eternal cell" (5.2.353-54). The ultimate devourer, again in Hamlet's own words: "my Lady worm" (5.1.82).
"How pregnant sometimes his replies are," says Polonius. But it's not just Hamlet--or Hamlet. From psychoanalysis and anthropology, anorexia and necrophilia, literature and film, each of our "texts" provides insights into the others. Moreover, each is informed by, and speaks to, my theories of mourning and melancholia. And, of course, there is more. More to be done with these theories; more to be done with these texts; and, ultimately, more "texts"--and contexts--where these theories can be both applied and expanded. So I would like to conclude with just a few new directions, a few new "texts," which seem almost blatantly relevant. There is Silence of the Lambs where, after discovering that Clarice, "[d]esperate not to be like [her] mother" (Harris 22), can't mourn the lost sheep, Hannibal Lecter changes his dinner order to lamb chops. There is Anne Hurry's pedophiliac patient, left by his father at birth, who manifested both "a lifetime hope that he could become pregnant" and "the fear of being swallowed up by [Hurry] as by mother" (22, 13). There is Owen Warland, Hawthorne's Artist of the Beautiful who loses his sweetheart Annie Hovenden. "He [then] went through a fit of illness. After his recovery his small and slender frame assumed an obtuser garniture of flesh than it had ever worn before" (465). Ultimately, Owen moves on , "big with the inspiration of an idea" (467). There is Jeffrey Dahmer, who, as his attorney explains, "ate body parts so that these poor people he killed would become alive again in him" (Schwartz 195). There is George Sluizer's cult classic The Vanishing, where, after a three year melancholic search for his lost friend, the hero finally makes contact with her murderer, only to be himself buried alive--right after refusing the killer's roast beef sandwich. There is In Cold Blood, where Perry and Tommy reflect that after a struggle with "an old lady, really old, [. . .] a regular tiger" (220), "we [. . .] ate ourselves under the table" (220). There is The Red Dragon's Tooth Fairy who bites his victims with his grandmother's teeth; there's the Grandmother in "Little Red Riding Hood" and Gwen's haunting assertion in Wolfman that "Little Red Riding Hood" is actually a werewolf story.
It begins to seem that melancholia is ubiquitous, but that should not be too surprising; after all, we began with Robert Burton's assertion that melancholy is "an inbred malady in every one of us." And since birth itself predisposes us towards a melancholia which might well be actualized through subsequent loses, neither should it be too surprising that the "texts" of psychoanalysis and anthropology, neurosis and sociopathology, literature and film--illustrate the ongoing human struggle with the incorporative identifications which can help both us and the Guayaki avoid pakryra ia.
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