Paris Letters #49

Durer Melancholia

We are so complicated about our feelings, in modernity. And this psychological complexity distorts our nature. Why do we have such a problem with natural expression of sadness, anger, happiness etc? The problem is that we have turned feeling into ‘things’ or quantifiable states of mind. We call our feelings positive or negative, desirable or undesirable, reducing them to stereotyped, psychological categories.

Let’s take sadness. Rather than the simplicity of just being sad, we have depression. If you are described as depressive, many people will tell you that this is a life sentence (like in AA where you are permanently an alcaholic). Others will recommend removing depression as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and replacing it with its opposite: there are drugs and popular hypnosis to efficently deal with your sadness—and happiness machines. The problem is that, since our experience of the word is bound with our perception of it, we may actually create these complex conditions in our eagerness to describe and define them.

In the past depression did not exist as as it does today: it was once called melancholia. In order to remove that melancholy, it was was personified as a demon: various rituals, such as drumming and singing, were used to exorcise it. The demon was not considered something intrinic to our nature, but a foreign element (as our true nature is health, not sickness, obviously). This was highly reasonable, very pragmatic. Certainly there was much superstition, but such practices can be highly effective, much more so than dreging up the subconscious and the minutia of the ‘family romance’. (Everybody now knows that Freudian psychoanalysis, with it’s limited goal of making a person functionally sad rather than pathologically so, was never that effective.)

Furthermore, let us also admit that modern medicine also has its superstitions, its irrational beliefs, and its evangelical fury. To consider the body as a machine is just one of those superstitions. We have constantly disregarded the subtle or the personal aspects of existence because our machines can’t measure those, and as a result we have all but reducing our bodily experience to meat and wires. But the body is not analogous to a machine at all: even a single cell it vastly deeper and more mysterious than any of our machines. And yet today living beings are are described as operating systems, networks, or programs. To be happy we need simply to change the program, to reboot the operating system.

The more we describe ourselves as machines, the more machine-like we become. Yet somewhere in that machine, is a consciousness, that is calling out to be liberated. The real the root of our melancholy these days, is the fact that we are delicate souls, stuck inside of machine-like concepts. Even our cities are constructed this way — to conform this state of anti-nature—to be ‘above nature’ in sterile conceptuality. We are constantly sad because of this disconnect between our nature and our concepts, between our psychological distortions and our actual experience.

If we were not sad or melancholic to a certain extent, then there really would be something wrong with us. If this modern disconnect is not deeply felt, then one is truly out of touch. Sadness, in itself is a salutary emotion. One can’t have joy without it, without that contrast. The modern witch hunt, which seeks to control and manipulate the delicate tissue of our feeling world though cybernetics, keeps us locked in the melancholia of conforming to our psychological models. This is the demon that needs to be excorcised.

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