Perhaps, rather, one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly forever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance. There is losing, as we know, but there is also the transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or planned. One can try to choose it, but it may be that this experience of transformation deconstitutes choice at some level. I do not think, for instance, that one can invoke the Protestant ethic when it comes to loss. One cannot say, ‘Oh, I’ll go through loss this way, and that will be the result, and apply myself to the task, and I’ll endeavor to achieve the resolution of grief that is before me.’ I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, a project, a plan, and finds oneself foiled. One finds oneself fallen. One is exhausted but does not know why. Something is larger than one’s own deliberate plan, one own’s project, one’s own knowing and choosing.
Something takes hold of you: where does it come from? What sense does it make? To what are we tied? And by what are we seized? Freud reminded us that when we lose someone, we do not always know what it is in that person that has been lost. So when one loses, one is also faced with something enigmatic: something hiding in the loss, something is lost within the recesses of loss. If mourning involves knowing what one has lost (melancholia originally meant, to a certain extent, not knowing), then mourning would be maintained by its enigmatic dimension, by the experience of not knowing incited by losing what we cannot fully fathom. When we lose certain people…we simply feel that we are undergoing something temporary, that mourning will be over and some restoration of a prior order will be achieved. But maybe when we undergo what we do, something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us…If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who ‘am’ I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what to do. On one level, I think I have lost ‘you’ only to discover that ‘I’ have gone missing as well. At another level, perhaps what I have lost ‘in’ you, that for which I have no ready vocabularly, is a relationality that is composed neither exclusively of myself nor you, but is to be conceived as the tie by which those terms are differentiated and related…If my fate is not originally or finally separable from yours, then the ‘we’ is traversed by a relationality that we cannot easily argue against; or, rather, we can argue against it, but we would be denying something fundamental about the social conditions of our very formation…Let’s face it, we’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.
-Judith Butler, Precarious Life
So not only is melancholia, as Zizek points out about Freud’s essay, mourning in advance, it is also, according to Butler, not wanting to know what one could or might lose by having, loving, losing. By being being transformed.
Crossposted with Love Dog.