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Narcissism and Melancholia: Reflections on a Century

Lucian Freud, Narcissus (1948) © Tate, London 2014

This centenary symposium brings together scholars and writer-practitioners of psychoanalysis to consider the legacy of two of Sigmund Freud's most important metapsychological papers: 'On Narcissism: An Introduction' (1914) and 'Mourning and Melancholia' (1915).

Although both narcissism and melancholia have pre-Freudian histories, it is, arguably, their formative status in psychoanalytic theory that accounts for their enduring interest as clinical and cultural signifiers in contemporary discourse. With these two papers, written at a time of unprecedented social and political turmoil, Freud establishes the difficulties of setting apart the inner and the outer worlds, and of preserving an image of the bounded subject. But how has our reading of Freud's thought, and our appraisal of the so-called Freudian subject, been challenged by the intervening century? How have ideas of narcissism and melancholia been reimagined by developments in critical and cultural theory such as post-colonialism, post-secularism, queer theory, or eco-criticism? Moreover, if theories of narcissism and melancholia remain germane to analyses of contemporary subjectivities, what of the place of psychoanalysis more broadly?

The interdisciplinary significance of the terms narcissism and melancholia will be reflected by the different speakers at this symposium event. Papers will engage with debates in twentieth century social history, cultural theory, gender studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, psychosocial studies, and the history of medicine.

Coordinates for consideration include:
  • the relation between narcissism and/or melancholia and gender politics

  • the value of the terms narcissism and/or melancholia for an understanding of group behaviour

  • the vicissitudes of narcissism and/or melancholia as diagnostic categories

  • the association of cultural narcissism to therapy culture

  • the discursive shift from narcissism to melancholia in contemporary critical thought

  • appraisals of the Freudian and/or post-Freudian century

  • appraisals of the place of psychoanalysis in contemporary critical thought

Listen to podcasts from the event

11th and 12th March 2015


Stephen Frosh (Birkbeck College)

Ranjana Khanna (Duke University)

Elizabeth Lunbeck (Harvard University)


Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz (The Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis)

John Fletcher (University of Warwick)

John Forrester (University of Cambridge)

Anastasios Gaitanidis (University of Roehampton)

Haya Oakley (The Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis)

Michael Rustin (University of East London)


Julie Walsh, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick (

Further Information and Registration


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