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Melancholia - A perverse act? The case of the frog and the eel

The Letter, Issue 32, Autumn 2004, Pages 148 - 174


Joanne Conway

And as one sees most fearful things, In the crystal of a dream,

We saw the greasy hempen rope, Hooked to the blackened beam,

And heard the prayer, the hangman's snare,

Strangled into a scream.

He looked upon the garish day, With such a wistful eye,

The man had killed the thing he loved, And so he had to die.[1]


In his seminal article entitled Mourning and Melancholia[2], Freud explained and distinguished the clinical differences between the two phenomena, but remained stymied in his attempts to develop a fundamental clinical structure to account for the appearance of melancholia in a subject as opposed to a mourning reaction. Yet, it seems that within the pages of his paper on melancholia and later articles, there are clues, which might serve to theorise an underlying clinical structure of melancholia.

This paper will revisit the concept of melancholia as outlined by Freud, and informed by the Lacanian perspective on perversion, proposes that where a perverse clinical structure is extant, melancholia is actively engaged in as a perverse act itself. Heretofore, melancholia has been regarded as a state, not an act. The perverse act is a defensive stance erected against anxiety which is engendered in the perverse subject via the adoption of the position of objet a.

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