Graywolf Press, Available now
Simply explaining the difference between mourning and melancholia, while reminding readers that there was a time when this distinction was common knowledge to mental health professionals, is Darian Leader's greatest achievement in The New Black. Drawing on Freud's essay "Mourning and Melancholia," Leader illustrates the difference between these two ideas: In mourning we begin a process of separating ourselves from the person who is gone; in melancholia we begin to die with them.
Leader argues that the importance of this delineation has been lost in contemporary culture, where "depression" has become a surrogate term for any type of sadness we experience. As a result, the most important and essential aspects of bereavement go unexplored, stifling what Leader describes as the mourner's need to "symbolize and even access their own response to loss." According to Leader, contemporary Western culture erroneously focuses on curing superficial grief symptoms (too frequently with prescription drugs), without allowing the mourner to make sense of his loss.
Leader does a good job of making his case against current treatments for depression while constructing his own schematic of the mourning process. Drawing on a number of examples from art and literature—Schindler's List, Sylvia Plath's disturbing poem "Daddy," and the work of artist Sophie Calle—along with case studies from his practice as a psychoanalyst, Leader illustrates how humans deal with loss while placing his largely Freudian view of mourning and melancholia in a contemporary and original context. Given his detailed exploration, it is hard to refute Leader's assertion that there is something missing from current, western approaches to profound loss. This, of course, begs the question: What should we be doing when things fall apart?
Here is where this short, four-chapter book fails to deliver: little is offered as an alternative to the current practices the author rails against. Leader clearly never intended to write a self-help book, but that should not have stopped him from attempting to provide more answers to the very questions he poses. I suspect his prescription may be psychoanalysis for all.