The New Black, By Darian Leader

In his great, digressive encyclopaedia of the human condition, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton noted that melancholy is the very "character of mortality". Three centuries later, in a brief but resonant essay, Freud teased out the links between mourning and melancholia and placed loss at the centre of the experience that makes each one of us who we are. Today, when happiness seems to be the point both of life and government reports, depression – the clinical category that has swallowed up melancholy – is everywhere. By 2010, the World Health Organization predicts, depression will have become the single largest public health problem after heart disease.

While it colonises our many forms of unhappiness, depression has also come to be understood as an "organic" illness and thus susceptible to quick cure. Big Pharma, our third most profitable industry, has the necessary pills to hand, as well as the publicity, often enough in the form of "scientific" reports which convince the medical profession of their drugs' efficiency. Alongside many types of anti-depressants, we now also have a supposedly efficacious treatment in CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), that handy mixture of positive thinking and mind control soon to be available to all on the NHS.

Psychoanalyst Darian Leader isn't convinced, either by the current behaviour-based descriptions of depression, diagnosed according to a check-list of factors that drugs can shift (appetite, mood, and sleep patterns) or by the cures. People, he shows us in this taut new book, are both more complicated and far more interesting. Leader has grown into a fine writer, one who can untangle the complexities of the great psychoanalytic thinkers – Freud, Klein and the notoriously difficult Lacan – and turn them into the more common sense that the English language demands, while dipping into contemporary culture, high and low. Depression, he argues, is not just a set of pre-ordained symptoms, but as "multiple and varied as those who are told they suffer from it".

Its source can lie deeply buried in an individual's history and far from present awareness, though the trigger may well be a separation or crisis. At its core is the experience of loss: engaging in the difficult process of mourning is what allows us to come through.

Among the many cases in this book, he presents a young woman who fell into a deep depression when her wish to move in with her transatlantic boyfriend was finally fulfilled. Desire left the relationship. Only years later in her analysis did it come clear that the sustaining force of the twosome had been the distance between them. This allowed her to stage "one hundred goodbyes" every time they met. She was effectively making good the parting she had never been able to make from her father, who had died when she was 14 without her taking appropriate leave.

His fatal condition had been kept from her and his death had come as a terrible shock. Her inability to digest her mourning had worked itself into the much later love affair, the failure of which had resulted in depression.

Leader's analysis of the work of mourning – its pitfalls, the blockages it can produce – is exemplary. He highlights the recognition of a necessary hatred alongside love for the lost one, the identification with the person so that our reproaches of them are converted into self-reproach, the need to frame the space they occupied for us, and then give up who we were for them. Drawing on anthropological sources, he underscores the importance of a public recognition of mourning, too often lacking today. One facet of experience Leader doesn't contend with here is religion, surely a player for Lacan.

If in mourning, we grieve the dead and ourselves in them, in severe depressive illness we die with them. A sense of loss engulfs them and us in a black hole. Is there a way of navigating that acute sense of deadness to emerge alive? Leader finds a possible answer in language and representation: "to find words to say how words fail". This he designates as the very task of poetry.

Leader's passion for the inner life makes him particularly susceptible to literature and art. Among much else, he provides a subtle commentary on some of our leading conceptual artists: Cornelia Parker, Rachel Whiteread, Bruce Naumann, Sophie Calle figure prominently.

The making of art, poetry and literature, Leader argues, often arises from an attempt to give presence to the absence which underlies mourning and the all-too-human condition of melancholy. This may well be part of the acknowledged "therapeutic" value of reading. There are many self-help books on the market. Though not advertised as one, The New Black is a book that might actually help.

Lisa Appignanesi's 'Mad, Bad and Sad: A history of women and the mind doctors from 1800' is published by Virago next month

Hamish Hamilton £17.99 (230pp) £16.29 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes