Refusal to Mourn

US National Melancholia and its Prophetic Precursors


  • Erin Runions Pomona College



civil religion, biblical prophetic texts, Mourning and Melancholia


In her recent book Precarious Life, Judith Butler points out that not more than ten days after 9/11, on 20 September 2001, George W. Bush urged the American people to put aside their grief; she suggests that such a refusal to mourn leads to a kind of national melancholia. Using psychoanalytic theory on melancholia, this article diagnoses causes and effects of such national melancholia. Further, it considers how a refusal to mourn in prophetic and apocalyptic texts and their interpretations operates within mainstream US American politics like the encrypted loss of the melancholic, thus creating the narcissism, guilt, and aggression that sustain the pervasive disavowal of loss in the contemporary moment. This article explore the ways in which the texts of Ezekiel, Micah, Revelation, and their interpreters exhibit the guilt and aggression of melancholia, in describing Israel as an unfaithful and wicked woman whose pain should not be mourned. These melancholic patterns are inherited by both by contemporary apocalyptic discourses and by the discourse of what Robert Bellah calls ‘American civil religion’, in which the US is the new Christian Israel; thus they help to position the public to accept and perpetuate the violence of war, and not to mourn it.

Author Biography

Erin Runions, Pomona College

Erin Runions is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible in the Department of Religious Studies, Pomona College, Pearsons Hall, 551 North College Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711, USA


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How to Cite

Runions, E. (2005). Refusal to Mourn: US National Melancholia and its Prophetic Precursors. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 1(1), 9–45.