Sam Kriss and Ellie Mae O'Hagan at The Baffler:
Many of the climate scientists and activists we’ve spoken with casually talk of their work with a sense of mounting despair and hopelessness, a feeling we call political depression. We’re used to considering and treating depression as an internal, medical condition, something that can be put right with a few chemicals to keep the brain swimming in serotonin; in conceptualizing our more morose turns of mind, modern medicine hasn’t come too far from the ancient idea that a melancholy disposition arises from too much black bile in the body. But when depressives talk about their experiences, they describe depression in terms of a lost relationship to the world. The author Tim Lott writes that depression “is commonly described as being like viewing the world through a sheet of plate glass; it would be more accurate to say a sheet of thick, semi-opaque ice.” A woman going by the pseudonym of Marie-Ange, one of Julia Kristeva’s analysands, describes a world hollowed out and replaced by “a nothingness . . . like invisible, cosmic, crushing antimatter.” In other words, the inward condition of depression is nothing less than a psychic event horizon; the act of staring at a vast gaping absence—of hope, of a future, of the possibility of human life. The depressive peeks into the future that climate change generates. Walter Benjamin, trying to lay out the contours of melancholic experience, saw it there. “Something new emerged,” he wrote: “an empty world.”
Freud diagnoses melancholia as the result of a lost object—a thing, a person, a world—and the fracture of that loss repeats itself within the psyche. It’s the loss that comes first. We do not think of political depression as a personal disorder, the state of being depressed because of political events; rather it’s the interiorization of our objective powerlessness in the world.