The Scope of the Virtual in the Treatment of Melancholia

  • Cláudio Alexandre S. CarvalhoEmail author
Part of the Numanities - Arts and Humanities in Progress book series (NAHP, volume 11)


As widely demonstrated by personal and clinical accounts, the onset of melancholic episodes is sometimes incomprehensible at light of present life circumstances, suggesting, as remarked by Freud, that in opposition to mourning the endured loss is not fully acknowledge or remains inaccessible to the conscious subject. Putting aside the question of whether the triggering of melancholic episodes has endogenous origins, Psychoanalysis sustained that this inaccessibility, due to the fact that the melancholic ego develops an identification with object, means that the subject was and remains incapable to mourn the lost object, unable to symbolically elaborate on its absence. Therapy depends on the ability to provide such a work of morning and the introjection of the lost object. Accordingly with various psychoanalytic theories, melancholia is marked by unconscious attempts to revive the lost object, by incorporating it inside oneself, in order to safeguard an original phantasy, which results in the general impoverishment of one’s vitality and ability to enjoy as it is attested by the prevalence of chronic symptoms of motor inhibition and asymbolia. The affects and drives of the subject became imprisoned in the relation with the first objects of the identificatory process, and the ego is under attack, constantly menaced by fragmentation, for he deemed himself unable to retain the more precious. One of the major problems in a theoretical approach to melancholia, relates to the plethora of meanings, conceptions and terminology it involves. In the present work, I will try to overcome, or at least minimize, this difficulty by privileging J. Kristeva’s account, relying mostly on her magnificent work Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (1987). In various works, Kristeva proposed a valuable model to access pre-linguist affects and drives that remain entrapped in an uncompleted or wounded identificatory process. She considered two forms of antidepressants—Psychoanalysis and Art (poetic language and music)—that, under specific conditions, can access and retrieve the relation with the ambiguous object amending such a bound by introjection and sublimation. Kristeva’s contribution has been invaluable in expanding our sense of the corporeal and imaginary dimensions of the unconscious. But despite the depths of her analysis of the way the semiotic processes influence moods and conscious representation, sometimes she seems to lose sight of the communicative dimension of the illness, not only in the therapeutic session but also in aetiology and everyday symptomatology. What we consider the scope of the virtual in therapy relies on a particular kind of negativity capable to grasp and transform the constitutive bifaciality of the subject, its psychic and communicative dimensions. It is from that junction that the patient is summoned to expose his feeling and thoughts providing them with new meaning. The therapeutic exploration of affective blockages grounded on the identificatory process, as it happens in melancholia, depends upon the recursive and retroactive access to the sequences and selectivity of meaning systems, not only psychic but also communicative. This access requires the virtualization of repressed elements surpassing extreme resistance to analytic transference. Instead of a full-blown exposition of the unconscious processes or the postulation of its presumed truth, the medium of therapy relies on the conditions to receive and transform elements prompt in the course of the therapeutic session. Despite its transformative techniques, the dynamic of this interactive medium differs from ordinary forms of conversation and support precisely by relinquishing a linear or pre-established path for amelioration.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhilosophyUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal

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