"Although you know that after such a loss the acute state of mourning will subside, we also know we shall remain inconsolable and never find a substitute."
"This is what those who haven't crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn't mean that they do not exist."
It has been suggested that we live both in a "culture of grief worship" (K. Smyth) and "the age of depression" (A. Horwitz and J. Wakefield): Our society leads us to expect emotional collapse in the aftermath of loss and the incidence of diagnosis of, and treatment for, depression has increased dramatically over the last few decades.
Have we lost the capacity to meaningfully distinguish between sorrow and depression, between mourning and melancholia? Why do we pathologize, and medicalize, intense emotional responses that arguably might be considered as falling within the normal range of human experience? How is it that, while we are more than ever inclined to deploy the concept of trauma, we also find ourselves thinking that, after a period deemed to be appropriate, mourning should proceed to “closure” and the bereaved should “let go” of the deceased, “get over” the loss, and “move on” with their lives? What do thoughts of this sort betray about our beliefs concerning the depth of our attachment to others and about the extent of our resilience in the wake of loss?
We will explore these and other questions by considering significant shifts in psychological and philosophical theories of mourning over the last century. In addition, we will read and discuss narrative accounts of grief and descriptions of how other cultures think about bereavement and the need for time to grieve.
Books to purchase (will be available at Argo Bookshop):
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (9781400078431)
- Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (9780345813565)