Document Type

Thesis

Degree

Master of Arts

Major

Philosophy

Date of Defense

3-18-2011

Graduate Advisor

Berit Brogaard, Ph.D.

Committee

David Griesedieck

Anna Alexandrova

Abstract

In this paper I compare Julia Kristeva's Black Sun and Judith Butler's The Psychic Life of Power, focusing on their treatment of melancholia. The two works prove similar as they appropriate this Freudian concept for feminist ends, suggesting that the mourning, loss, and personal renewal associated with melancholia afford unique opportunities for self-discovery. With that said, the two philosophers present fundamentally different assessments of melancholia as it relates to cultural discourses. Throughout Black Sun, Kristeva suggests that the process of articulating personal loss—whether through psychoanalysis, art, or literature—allows the individual to re-imagine his or her perceived identity. Kristeva envisions this process as an individualistic one, as she discusses the psyche apart from larger cultural and historical discourses. Butler, on the other hand, presents the individual psyche as socially constructed. Because she defines melancholia as the mourning of possibilities for one's identity that have been foreclosed by society, the process of acknowledging and articulating personal loss prompts the subject to question oppressive cultural discourses. Thus Butler, unlike Kristeva, posits melancholia as having profound social and political consequences. In my paper, I defend Butler's position as the more compelling of the two. Research methods consist primarily of textual analysis, which focuses on Black Sun, The Psychic Life of Power, critiques of these two works by contemporary feminist philosophers, and Freud's earlier writings on melancholia. I conclude that Butler's argument affords concrete possibilities for social justice, which remain largely absent from Kristeva's book. The Psychic Life of Power not only revises Freudian ideas, but it offers a theoretical framework for understanding culture, within which social categories can be revised, cultural discourses can be questioned, and otherness can be embraced.

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