Bestselling bodies: mourning, melancholia and the female forensic pathologist
[in special issue: Contemporary Women's Writing]
Women: a Cultural Review, 19, (1), . (doi:10.1080/09574040801920011).
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This article analyses the significance of a relatively new branch of crime fiction which centres on the figure of the female forensic pathologist. Drawing on psychoanalytic theory, it suggests that the exploration of a particular kind of melancholia is at the heart of this fiction. For Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, mourning depends on the recognition and articulation of loss, whereas melancholia results from a refusal to mourn loss or even acknowledge that there has been anything to lose.The lost object is consequently 'incorporated' into the body, although it remains within the realm of the symbolic order. For Julia Kristeva, by contrast, melancholia is associated not only with disavowal, but with a literalisation of loss on or in the body. For her, melancholia is associated with unsymbolisable affect: the lost object is experienced as a dead or deadening part of the body. Kristeval also links female melancholia with the abjection of the mother which is, according to her, a precondition for the acquisition of female heterosexual identity. She suggests that this abjection or 'matricide' is always precarious and never complete, and that the hetersexual female subject never loses the trace of her desire for the lost mother - desire which is experienced affectively as melancholia. It is argued here that 'post-mortem fiction' explores such buried psychic structures via the encounter between the female pathologist and female corpse which is often at its centre, and through its detailed mapping of scenes imbued with the affective traces of trauma and loss.
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