The Oresteia and the Act of Revenge: of Desire and Jouissance

By: Dana Tor

Abstract: In 2005, Jean Clair curated a grand exhibition dedicated to melancholy. The
exhibition encompassed an array of the copious representations of melancholy
through a historical prism, and included various spectacular images of skulls, doleful
eyes, ticking clocks and ample images of the posture most identified with
melancholy— figures leaning their heads on their hands. Melancholy is, first and
foremost, a psychic state. However, the explorations of melancholy in culture
traverse the confines of the medical field; as philosophy, literature, and visual art
began to take interest in it. In what sense can we isolate a common melancholic
essence at the foundation of the various manifestations of this phenomenon? The
history of art does not examine this question, rather it fashions an iconography of
melancholy. Can we draw an essential link between art and psychoanalysis through
the way each practice treats melancholy? May we extrapolate a structural relation in
the encounter between melancholy and art? This paper will explore these two
questions through a Freudian-Lacanian conceptualization of the art of Bas Jan Ader,
who worked for a short period of time during the 1970s.