Going Nowhere, Slow (book) – review

In Going Nowhere, Slow: The Aesthetics and Politics of Depression Danish scholar Mikkel Krause Frantzen studies the psychopathology of depression as it is represented in four major cultural works of the past 30 years. For Frantzen, depression is not “just” an individual psychopathology – albeit with moral, political, and economic implications – but a fundamental cultural and philosophical problem as well. Depression, he argues, is inextricably linked with the problem of time. More specifically, he views depression as “the pathological feeling that history has come to an end, that the future is closed off, frozen once and for all” (6). And indeed, one major symptom of depression is the feeling that there is no improvement possible, no cure available. Phrases like “it will pass” or “tomorrow will be better” become incomprehensible. One feels stuck in a torturous present that extends into the future indefinitely. Or, as Frantzen says, the future becomes a thing of the past, a fait accompli. Frantzen connects this conception of depression to the situation of Western society in general. American philosopher Frederic Jameson has said that it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than an alternative to capitalism. This perceived impossibility to even imagine a future that is different from the present, that is not merely a continuation of structures already in place, forms the basis of this book. The examination of the fiction of Michel Houellebecq and David Foster Wallace, the installation art of Claire Fontaine and Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia occurs along these two lines: how do they represent the individual, affective dimension of suffering from depression, and how is this linked to a sense of being stuck in time, a loss of future for Western society as a whole? But also: what do these works tell us about a possible solution? Is there a cure for depression, both on the individual and the societal level?

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