Melancholia and Consciousness in Music, Art and Literature


Melancholia and Consciousness in Music, Art and Literature is an interdisciplinary exploration of artists’ melancholia as a state of consciousness across the visual arts, music, and literature, from the times of the Hippocratic writers to the emergence of the unconscious as a source of artistic inspiration. The three major sections of the dissertation, Ancient Melancholies, Modern Melancholies, and Future Melancholies, are structured throughout by the interplay among three threads (or perspectives) in the history of artists’ melancholia: religious-philosophical, artistic, and medical. Each of the five chapters are based on a certain theme, what I call a figure, which represents various conceptions of melancholia across the arts at different time periods. For example, Chapter 1 is titled “The Melancholics,” which is the figure the ancients used to understand melancholia and its relationship to the arts and creativity. The flow of the dissertation ultimately tracks the development of the artistic personality first as a melancholic figure emerging in ancient times, next as a visual polymath at the beginning of the Renaissance, then as a musical Faust during the Romantic period, next as a flâneur rising from the detritus of modernity, and finally as the melancholic automaton of the future. These figures are shaped by melancholic processes that are both constructive and destructive, and by the early twentieth century they follow the submersion of melancholia into the dark Freudian unconscious, where the symbolic life of dreams arose alongside an associative logic. Even though melancholia no longer held magisterial respect among physicians in the twentieth century, it did not leave the culture which it had shaped for over 2500 years. Psychiatric medicine nonetheless recast the artistic personality once again when it renamed melancholia as a disorder of mood called depression, a diagnosis that remains controversial in the twenty-first century.

Melancholia, depression, music, art, literature, psychiatry, psychology, religion, genius.