For the melancholic the lost love object is partly unconscious. Unable to give it up, he clings to it 'through the medium of a hallucinatory wish-psychosis' (Freud) in which the deeply cathected memories are obsessively repeated. Along with the sublimation of seduction, this process effects the uncanny nature of de Chirican scenes, hallucinatory and reiterative as they are; it also compounds the ambivalence that they register. For just as the subject of the fantasmatic seduction is ambivalent vis-à-vis the seducer, so too is the melancholic vis-à-vis the lost object. As the melancholic de Chirico internalizes his lost object, he also internalizes his ambivalence for it, which is then turned around on the subject. This ambivalence for both subject and object is most apparent in de Chirico and for a time he sustains it. However, its destructive aspect soon becomes dominant ... here melancholy seems to pass over into masochism.

The working over of seduction, the paranoid projections of persecution, the melancholic repetition of loss: all of these processes in de Chirico fascinate. Certainly they fascinated the surrealists - that is, until they could no longer ignore his necrophiliac turn ... compulsive repetition was always the motor of his obsessional work. For a time he was able to recoup it as a mode of art, to make a muse of uncanny returns, as he did in The Disquieting Muses (1917). Eventually he could inflect it no further, and his work petrified in melancholic repetition, as is evident in the many versions of this painting. As petrification became its condition rather than its subject, his art came to intimate, as Freud once said of melancholy, 'a pure culture of the death instinct.'

from: Compulsive Beauty by Hal Foster, pp 71-3, MIT Press, 1993


Ernesto said...

That's an awesome book. It was quite helpful for an essay I wrote on Cindy Sherman.

Martin Edmond said...

yes, can imagine. was cited in a review of an art book I wrote, positively, as a point of comparison to what I was doing ... but had never heard of it. so went out & found it. not the quality so much, but the selection of images, is exceptional.