“Black Milk,” feminism, & depression

I’ve read a lot of feminist literature in the past two decades, scholarly
endeavors as well as literary. Feminism was one of the powerful “isms” that the
20th century introduced and I think one of the most important of them in terms
of creating a new voice and in introducing to us the notion that new “voices”
are always in the making…or they should be if there is any “life” present in
the culture. Elif Sharak’s memoir Black Milk reflects one of these new
“voices” in Turkish culture. Sharak’s experience of becoming a new mother is
the framework of the memoir but it also delves significantly into the history of
feminism in the past century or so. She intertwines into the story line of the
memoir short vignettes of significant feminist figures in this time frame and
highlights some of the battles they fought with themselves, their romantic
partners, and their culture. She also eloquently describes her battle with a
debilitating post-partum depression.

There are many astute observations she makes in the book. I will share only
one, a piercing observation about depression which touches on faith in God. She
describes depression as, “that sinking feeling that your connection to God is
broken and you are left to float on your own in a liquid black space, like an
astronaut who has been cut loose from his spaceship and all that linked him to
Earth.”

I have read clinical tomes on the subject of depression and many of those that I
find most insightful, from a psycho-dynamic viewpoint, approach the subject of
depression as a loss, as the experience of “the lost object.” And from my own
clinical work I can note that one of the most significant signs of depression is
when a person starts breaking off connections, therefore “losing” friends, work,
family, faith…and if the downward spiral is not interrupted even life
itself. Ultimately this spiral leads to Hamlet’s famous lament, “To be or not to be,
that is the question.” These words of Shakespeare and the quotation above from
Shafak bring to my mind the famous Edvard Munch painting, The Scream. That is
one visual image of ultimate despair, the subjective experience of that
aforementioned astronaut being cut loose from his spaceship.

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2 thoughts on ““Black Milk,” feminism, & depression

  1. mtsweat

    An interesting analogy Elif uses to describe depression. There is, of course, an increasing recognition of depression in societies abroad. I wonder if her associating it as though ‘her connection to God had been broken’ is a common description from the mass number of cases reported each year? Interesting stuff… Thanks

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  2. literary lew Post author

    Thanks for your response and support. I think the notion of depression as loss of connection is very interesting and worthy of further discussion. And I certainly do not think this line of thought should disregard the bio-chemical dimension of the experience.

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