Melancholy and the queer artist

melancholia by durer

Melancholy. As the French philosopher Didier Eribon posits, this is where it all starts, and, in fact, ends—the lifelong process of mourning that each homosexual goes through, and through which we construct our individual identities. It is mourning for the loss of heterosexual privilege: of easy and automatic familial and social approval; of universally sanctioned unions and family units; of the validation of seeing one’s reflections in the dominant myths of romantic culture. It is to combat this melancholy that we build, sculpt, etch, paint, compose, write—at a level, as I’ve heard even homophobes concede, higher, on average, than our heterosexual fellow-travellers. While straights may indeed face their own romantic and family quandaries, these cannot equate to the systemic barriers homosexuals everywhere face. These are barriers against the expression of our most powerful, intimate feelings, which begets melancholy and has, in turn, begotten some of the world’s greatest art. Every etch, every splash of colour, every appoggiatura, every rigorously wrought iamb, is a stay we erect against the hostile splash of the main current.

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