Luckhurst's project is to link two seemingly disparate works from two widely divergent cultures. As he notes, both Toni Morrison's Beloved and Michèle Roberts's Daughters of the House focus on daughters living on after a cultural genocide: Africans in America and Jews in Europe. Central to both is a depiction of mourning in which ghosts are featured. As Freud writes in “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917), in a normal process of mourning, the bereaved admits the loss and slowly withdraws libido from the absent object. The denial in melancholia, however, involves an overidentification with the lost object, sometimes to the point of imagined spirits.
In Beloved, the daughter Beloved's broken speech is often seen as a preoedipal remergence with the mother, but such an explanation is complicated by the larger historical context of enforced servitude and early death, and so Luckhurst draws on Lacanian and anthropological analyses. As he writes, “Ghosts are the signal of atrocities, marking sites of an untold violence, a traumatic past whose traces remain to attest to the lack of testimony.” Similarly, in Daughters of the House, Léonie begins to hear the voices of the Jewish dead when someone desecrates a grave by opening it and painting it with red swastikas. The remnants of the past persist as corpses, visions, spirits, and the bones of the dead. As Luckhurst asks poignantly, “If poetry was rendered barbaric by Auschwitz, is ‘normal’ mourning equally incapacited?” Memorial history, he concludes, must be premised on deliberate forgetting in order to close the gaps.
Revista Uruguaya de Psicoanálisis. LXXXIII, 1996.
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Galef, D. (1998). “Impossible Mourning” in Toni Morrison's Beloved and Michèle Roberts's Daughters of the House. Roger Luckhurst.. Psychoanal. Q., 67(1):185