Tell me about The New Black.
Darian Leader is a British psychoanalyst who in a great way undermines today’s ideas about depression. He starts with the premise that we live in a society of hyped optimism, where depression appears as a danger that goes against optimism – it’s something for people who gave up the fight for success or whatever. Today we use the terms depression and stress too much – they dominate psychiatric and self-help discourse.
They’re debased terms; you might be ‘depressed’ if you miss the bus.
Absolutely. Or just the common boredom of children can be described as depression. But what Darian does is to return to the difference between melancholy and mourning, and he makes a great distinction between them. It’s very good to return to these different roots of depression, and to stay with them – not as traumatic things, but as something pretty normal which has been forgotten.
So we should re-codify depression?
Not perceive it as a unified term, but to see it as various different things, which is why he is using the old terms of melancholy, mourning and loss.
Darian is also critical of the pharmaceutical industry: depression appears as something universal that can be quickly dealt with using pretty much universal types of drugs. But, as he points out, this denies the fact that the symptom is connected to some cause beyond the depression. He shows that in depression everyone has a different logic and a different individual story, which can be linked to loss – of another human being, of identity, of a job, of health or love. It can also be linked to being stuck in circulating around some lack.
I’d be interested to check this book out. I actually spent a few months over a decade ago talking to a therapist, since a couple others were urging me to do it (and offering to pay for it). An American Indian guy, slightly New Agey, but also with books by Kant on his shelf. He was fun to talk to, but he didn’t really tell me anything profound. I just enjoyed having an hour to bullshit about philosophy with someone with no distractions. It occurred to me that if only we could be guaranteed an hour of someone’s undivided attention once or twice a week, a lot of our psychological problems might disappear on their own. Maybe we need to start waving cash around in front of our friends and family to help them focus.
But anyway, I laughed at the above point about depression as a danger that goes against optimism. That, more than anything, has led people to wonder about my own mental health: “You don’t want a higher-paying job? You don’t have any long-term plans for your life? You don’t mind being single for so long? Are you sure you’re okay?”