Abstract for Situating Melancholy in Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety

200165(This abstract was recently accepted by the Institute for Faith and Learning for the 2013 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture where this year’s conference title is: Kierkegaard: A Christian Thinker for Our Time?. The conference will take place at Baylor University, October 31-November 2, 2013 where I will be presenting a paper based on this abstract. I am honored to be accepted and eagerly anticipating the conference.)

The concept of melancholy is displayed in a myriad of different ways throughout the writings of Kierkegaard, from the mouths of his pseudonymous authors to his personal confessions in his journals, making it difficult to pinpoint its true nature. This paper uses Kierkegaard’s treatise, The Concept of Anxiety, written under the pseudonym Vigilius Haufniensis, as a way to gain deeper insight into the tenor of melancholy. In The Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard searches for the root of anxiety and locates it in the first qualitative leap of humanity, which he defines as the first sin. From this analysis, he argues that anxiety forms the backdrop for all sin, including the first sin and all subsequent sins. A closer look at the text, however, reveals that as time goes on, this anxiety increases, due to the accumulation of sin and guilt from all of history, and deepens into another mood, the mood of melancholy or depression [Tungsind].

Thus, contrary to the usual interpretation of Kierkegaard, I argue that melancholy is more than an individual’s struggle with existence, but is intimately tied to our historical environment, steeped in this ever-increasing, ever-deepening anxiety, which Kierkegaard calls melancholy or depression. This link between anxiety and melancholy not only clears away misunderstandings about Kierkegaard’s description of melancholy, but it also gives us a fuller appreciation and awareness of our human condition. Such awareness helps us address the issues of depression today and offer support to those currently struggling with it.