Against Being Against The Romanticizing of Depression

Laurel Nakadate, “May 10, 2010,” from 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears

Last year, Cosmopolitan published an opinion piece which quoted Kim Gordon discussing Lana Del Rey and her connected persona who has a solid relationship with depression:

Today we have someone like Lana Del Rey, who doesn’t even know what feminism is, who believes women can do whatever they want, which, in her world, tilts toward self-destruction, whether it’s sleeping with gross old men or getting gang raped by bikers. Equal pay and equal rights would be nice. Naturally, it’s just a persona. If she really truly believes it’s beautiful when young musicians go out on a hot flame of drugs and depression, why doesn’t she just off herself? (via Cosmopolitan).

Del Rey is no stranger to facing criticism like Gordon’s — a quick Google search for “Lana Del Rey Romanticizing” brings up several hits for top-name news sources (among them: Rolling Stone, Billboard, etc.) I can’t help but despise the criticism that Del Rey faces for her “romanticizing” of depression. If depression is, as I socially understand it, feelings of prolongated despair or unhappiness, then could a “romanticizing” of this condition be the solution in general? Shouldn’t an individual’s “coming to terms with” his or her depression by way of romanticization be his or her solution about which someone else should not criticize? And should we have criticism for an artist who can capitalize off of these feelings of depression when capitalism is usually the force that excites these feelings of despair in the first place?
 
 In her incredibly moving and culturally important book of poetry entitled Garments Against Women, Kansas poet Anne Boyer reveals:

I thought I, too, would write about happiness if I were ever to write again. For who better to consider sleep than the insomniac? But as I became very ill, I thought less about happiness and had instead many thoughts like “I do not want to be ill” and “It is difficult to work with a high fever” and “I wish someone were here to take care of me” and “How will I pay to see a doctor?” (pp. 10–11).

Boyer’s Garments Against Women is a testament to how the forces of industrial capitalism and hegemonic ideas about work affect classes of care and in turn quality of life for those unable to work. Boyer writes this after battling breast cancer and being too unwell to work for a period of time. The thoughts that Boyer recalls are mostly about this inability to work. Seen here, work, as an implication of capitalism, causes grief, despair, unhappiness, etc., especially for prolongated periods of time. That is, capitalism is one of the causes for her depression. Thus, what is wrong with capitalizing off of sadness?
 
 Del Rey takes a different approach to the ways she relates to depression. For Del Rey, depression is admission. I have yet to find a single valid argument about why this is problematic. (“She sets a bad example” is not valid in my mind because Del Rey is not responsible for how other people view her art). On the same hand, isn’t art always emotional?
 
 In 2011, one of my favorite artists Laurel Nakadate published a collection of photographs entitled 365 Days: A Catalogue of Tears. The collection, as a performance, features 365 photographs each showcasing Nakadate in tears. While the collection explores her living quarters and outward — including her bathroom, windowpane, aircraft lavatories, boats on the ocean, woods, rivers, parking lots, and back to her New York City apartment’s window — we aren’t only familiar with where she spends most of her life, but also where her life takes her. Tears are intimate and Nakadate invites us to share these private moments with her. 
 
 Capitalizing off of depression is radical and should not be shamed. An artist who wants to detail his or her sadness in any way should always be permitted to do so. Oftentimes hegemonic shame is an original cause of depression and the double standard to which we hold artists, especially women, when it comes to emotions exists to subdue their feelings and tell them that they are not allowed to feel like that. And who are we to tell someone that she doesn’t have the right to feel sad?


Originally published at www.unhappyblog.com on August 15, 2016.