Left-Wing Melancholia; a delightful book not to be read in Autumn.
Enzo Traverso’s 'Left-Wing Melancholia' is in parts difficult to read. Not difficult in terms of its accessibility, clarity or meanings. Difficult because of the emotions it evokes to the reader. The book explores representations and narratives related to mourning, grief and disorientation experienced by large sections of the left as a result of the glorious (and inglorious) defeats. Traverso's book does not claim historical accuracy neither does it deal with complex theoretical debates and the perpetual "what ifs" haunting the left.
He eloquently uses references to iconic images and cinematography in order to reconstruct the pain and emotional suffering experienced by individuals and communities who had committed themselves to the Struggle. He makes a rather contentious and taboo issue -even within the left, let alone mainstream commentators- to look obvious, humane and natural. Stripped of its theoretical grandiosity and socio-legal interpretations, the historical defeats of the left were often experienced as personal defeats and tragedies of the people who had committed their lives, in an almost sacrificial and proto-Christian way, to the higher principle of creating a society devoid of exploitation and oppression.
I will never forget my discussions with Greek veteran partisans, most of whom had been exiled in prison-islands for decades, about how they had experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although, the nostalgia and admiration to the "New World and New Man", supposedly created in the Soviet Union, had faded away long before 1989 the consequences of the Wall's collapse were definitely experienced by many as an individual mental health crisis. Violent and distressing, disorienting and painful, it led many veteran activists to resignation and isolation. The question posed by the author is how do we use such constellation of painful memories and emotions in order to rebuilt resilience, reclaim humanism and defy deterministic approaches and futile certainties.
Recommended reading, although, if you consider yourself to be on the Left don't read it in the Fall. September comes with its own high dose of melancholy don't add more to this.