“New maladies of the soul”


The ‘new maladies of the soul’ is a term of Julia Kristeva’s referring the desubjectication of the European subject. This desubjectification refers to the deprivation of interiority experienced as the emptying of value from one’s existence. Within psychiatric terminology this experience may be categorised as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive- the whole gamut of neuroses.

This is the psychic regime of collapse, what I have previously discussed as negative space and (misappropriating another psychiatric term) post-traumatic subjectivity.

This is also the condition that Kristeva refers to as an amputated subjectivity.

Is the writer then someone who merely identifies with his own amputation? He goes further. Even writing against this existential impoverishment, demanding its reversal or undoing or merely flagging up the danger, the writer inhabits its space consciously and wilfully.

If there is such a thing as Dominic Fox’s ‘militant dysphoria’ (and the recent riots throughout London and England seem to be the best representatives of a spontaneous understanding of that name) then is there also a literary and aesthetic dysphoria? Not a dysphoric discourse characterised by a poverty of thought and language but a virile form of the occupation of one’s own emptied state?

Thomas Bernhard comes to mind here. The novel Frost consists of nothing more than the narrator ranting on against the world in a comic hatred. Bernhard garnered himself a reputation as a miserablist in much the same manner that Beckett did, that today Michel Houllebecq has earned. Yet they are comic voices as much as prophets of despair. They each look to small rather than grand solaces. To what Camus had called moments of reprieve.

There is nothing especially masochistic about the writer then, except maybe that he is conscious of his condition and wants to explore it. An inverted image of Zen. The writer hacks more and more of itself off, producing more and more prostheses, wearing more and more of himself.

Abandoning the search for a cure to the problem, the writer lives it more fully.


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