The New Black Mourning, Melancholia, and Depression

Darian Leader

Graywolf Press




224 Pages


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Fifty years ago, the terms mourning and melancholia were part of the psychological lexicon. Today the catchall concept of depression has evolved to take their place. Darian Leader argues that this shift is more than semantic; rather, it reflects our culture's complicated relationship with loss, suffering, and grief. Part memoir, part cultural analysis, The New Black draws on examples from literature, art, cinema, and history, as well as case studies from his work as a psychologist, to explore the unconscious ways our culture responds to the experience of loss.


Praise for The New Black

"An engrossing and wise book, The New Black is not only an illuminating read, it convinces us that this level of intelligence and ideas is essential today."—Hanif Kureishi, New Statesman

"Leader—the British psychoanalyst who famously described shrinks as 'mutants scavenging after a nuclear holocaust'—gives the profession a sound scolding for mishandling and misunderstanding depression. Our current idea of depression, he says, was created to fit the symptoms (such as insomnia and lack of appetite) that antidepressants treat. Leader goes back to Freud's classic 1917 essay, 'Mourning and Melancholia,' to show what depression is really about: the loss of an important relationship. He presents a thorough and thoughtful review of what happens when the work of mourning ('detaching ourselves from the loved ones we have lost') or melancholia (where what is lost is not so obvious to the patient) goes undone. He also rails at the erosion of public mourning rituals that can ease the process. Leader manages to bring not just a fresh look at Freud and grieving but adds rich context from his own case studies and the culture around us, from John Cleese's hilarious eulogy for his Monty Python colleague Graham Chapman to Brokeback Mountain. It's an astounding analysis of a pressing mental health issue that melds old and new."—Publishers Weekly

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  • Darian Leader

  • Darian Leader is a psychoanalyst practicing in London. He is the author of Why Do Women Write More Letters Than They Post? and Why Do People Get Ill?, coauthored with David Corfield.