Book Review: Discourses of Mourning in Dante, Petrarch, and Proust (2016)

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar Kimmi
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    says:

    Sounds like a positively ridiculous discussion of the subject.
    If someone doesn’t want to write a book about people mourning the loss of Carnegie Deli, well, that’s fine.
    But to hold out that you’ve honestly discussed mourning… well, I don’t think you’ve really scratched the surface.

    Mourning is a distillation of our own fear of death, projected onto other things and creatures. We mourn no less strongly for a lost thing than for a lost person. (The sharpness of mourning — the sudden remembrance, the need to tell someone who is lost — that is a different quality altogether).

    To accept that you will die, truly, is to free yourself from many chains and much silliness. I regret that I have not achieved this.Report

  2. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    I haven’t read Petrarch or Proust, or the book being reviewed. But I can make a couple of comments about acedia. It’s a spiritual laziness, an attitude that further advancement toward God’s will is impossible. It can leave one mired in sin, or stagnant with regard to virtue. It’s not inescapable, except in the sense that in the Inferno everything is inescapable. You could argue that Dante depicts himself in a state of acedia at the beginning of the Comedy, meandering and unfocused. The character’s journey shakes him out of it.

    You’re right that “sloth” falls short of a good description of it. Acedia can be seen in ordinary laziness, but it also acts out as extreme activity. The internet is great for making a person think he’s accomplishing something. “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose”, according to Captain von Trapp. The constant is a lack of accomplishment driven by an underlying lack of belief in its possibility.

    Acedia isn’t fruitful, spiritually or artistically. Maybe mourning can be, but not acedia.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay
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    says:

    Honestly, acedia sounds to me like depression, or perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder. To the unknowing, they can seem a lot like sloth. Someone stuck in trauma can very much experience the world, other people, and even themselves as fragmented, because of their dissociation.

    The description of “unable to sing the hymns that would prove their salvation” really evokes it. And the frequent inclination of outsiders to impute it as a moral failing is also familiar.

    But it’s hard to say if that’s actually what Dante had in mind.

    Freud’s melancholy is almost certainly depression and trauma, though.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Doctor Jay
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      says:

      Good points. And the unnecessary activity kind of acedia is similar to anxious depression. The question is the underlying cause, I think. Was Tony Soprano depressed primarily because he led a pointless existence, or was it biochemical, or his awful upbringing? Assign what percentages you’d like to each cause – they’re going to be meaningless. But it’s true that he was someone who didn’t believe in becoming a better person.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Not to comment on the Sopranos analogy (because I saw only a couple episodes and therefore don’t know enough), but maybe we can look at acedia as “a disease one chooses to have” whereas clinical depression is something one doesn’t choose?

        Perhaps, however, that framing too neatly distinguishes things that become confusing in edge cases, like sub-clinical depression.

        Just my thoughts. I’m in no way an expert on acedia or mental health.Report

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