© 2021Dmitry Andreyevich Bochkov

2021 – № 2 (22)


Citation link:

Bochkov D. A. (2021). Depressija, antidepressanty i psihoanaliz: nazad ne k Frejdu, no k Ben’jaminu [Depression, Antidepressants and Psychoanalysis: Back Not to Freud but to Benjamin]. Medicinskaja antropologija i biojetika [Medical Anthropology and Bioethics], 2(22).

Author info:

Dmitry Andreyevich Bochkov is a philosopher and Senior Academic Editor of the National Educational Center The Big Russian Encyclopedia.

Keywords: psychoanalysis, depression, temporality, melancholy, Maria Rita Kehl, Jacques Lacan

Abstract. This text reviews the book by the Brazilian psychoanalyst Maria Rita Kehl, Time and the Dog: Society and Depression, its Russian translation published in early 2021 by Gorizontal publishing house (Kehl 2021). The work highlights the struggle of antidepressants and couch for the subject, from the point of view of his temporality. Maria Rita Kehl herself, being a psychoanalyst who works with cases of depression, in this confrontation is not a valkyrie flying over the battlefield but a brave warrior who, according to the motto festina lente, wants to free depression from the discursive prison of the hegemonic psychiatry. Because of the author’s stance, the book features a dual interpretation of depression. On the one hand, Kehl conceptually describes a specific depressive subject, whose position forms at the second time of the Oedipus complex (not at the child’s birth at all); on the other hand, she declares depression above all else a social symptom typical for the modern era of omnipotence of the big Other’s, who demands from us infinite enjoyment. The attempt to discuss depression in two various languages, in two scales, to combine statistics from Brazilian newspapers with her clients’ personal stories, a political manifesto with a psychoanalytic clinic – this is what Maria Rita Kehl’s book is built around.

Maria Rita Kehl’s Time and the Dog: Society and Depression consists of three parts, each of them split into several chapters. It may seem that these parts, discussing melancholy, time, and depression, are barely interconnected and exist more or less independently. That is why a repetitious discussion of the theses may be not merely a rhetoric style but a structural device that creates the illusion of integrity of the thoughts flow. For Kehl, who describes atemporality and unconscious experience of the depressive subject, a convincing narrative must not at all be “chronologically” cohesive. So, because the term “depression” itself is too generic and unclear, it requires a provisional “doppelganger” from the world of psychoanalytic theory, to compare, match and distinguish “depression” to. That is why in the first part, “From Melancholy to Depressions”, Kehl talks about melancholy, which took roots in psychoanalytical language after the release of Freud’s 1917 essay Mourning and Melancholia. The term “melancholy” existed long before Freud, and Kehl briefly describes a rather long (time-wise) lineage: Aristotle – Thomas Aquinas – Renaissance humanists – Robert Burton, an English writer and prelate, author of the encyclopedic work The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) – Friedrich Schlegel – Charles Baudelaire – Walter Benjamin. For Kehl, it is the ideas of the German cultural philosopher of the early XX century that best capture the phenomenon of pre-Freudian melancholy: Benjamin the melancholic person is a subject that feels cut-off from the public dimension of goodness. Freud, in his turn, cancels out the public dimension of melancholy and puts it exclusively in the subject’s private space; Kehl’s main thesis in part one is an attempt to revise melancholy not through Freud’s eyes but those of Benjamin. According to her, this may help to uncover the public dimension (unhappiness about the culture) that modern depression conceals.

The second part, its title Time and the Dog repeats that of the book, discusses the topic of time, in particular the entwinement of two tenses that became possible thanks to Lacan’s theoretical base – the subjectively and socially constructed tenses. From the point of view of temporality, the identification of “I” with the Other occurs as follows: for each subject, time forms in the interval between the strain of need and satisfaction (of desire). However, because for a human child satisfaction of an urge fully depends on the readiness of the Other to take care of him, this interval for him soon becomes time that separates the demand of the Other from the capacity of the subject to respond. Kehl’s main imperative (possibly conservative to some extent) in part two is that the subject must obtain unconscious knowledge that will allow him to stop identifying with the Other and take back his time.

In part three, the political statement about depression becomes a truly psychoanalytic one. Two important distinctions emerge that allow understanding what Kehl means when, following Lacan, she defines depression as “moral cowardice”, a retreat, and finds its root in a neurosis clinic. The first basic distinction, between melancholy and depression, can be observed from the standpoint of speech (a melancholic person’s speech consists of meaningless self-condemnation, while a depressive subject’s speech demonstrates meagerness of his experience), as well as from a phallic standpoint (the future melancholic person is not marked by a phallic identification, while a depressive subject has had a certain experience of phallic representation for the Other, i. e. for his mother). It is curious that while in part one Kehl reduced melancholy to depression, so she could see a public dimension of the latter, in the final part she places them apart, so she could prove that a depressive subject is not a psychotic-melancholic person. The originality of Kehl’s approach lies in her defining depression through oedipal dynamics, which implies a theoretical divergence between psychiatry and psychoanalysis: wherein for the former, a subject is innately depressive, for the latter a depressive subject may be formed. Unlike a psychotic person (e. g., a melancholic person), for a depressive subject to form it is necessary that he successfully passes the first time of the Oedipus complex: a child identifies with the phallus – an object his mother lacks – and subdues his wish to her demand. At the second time, a child becomes convinced of the inevitable presence of the imaginary father – such as a child imagines him based on the mother’s discourse – as his rival for the mother’s demand – and discovers inconsistency of his phallic identification. The fact that the mother desires something apart from her child creates a lack of the object, a phallus, for the subject. At this stage, a choice of neurosis occurs; the subject chooses a strategy to overcome castration, a choice that defines his psychic structure. The subject can no longer be his mother’s desire (be a phallus for the Other) and he resolves to have something else instead. Because in the context of psychoanalytic theory possession is a process, not a result, the subject spends his life looking for new ideals. A distinguishing trait of a depressive subject is that he chooses no strategy. Kehl epitomizes it the following way: being driven out of the paradise where he once was and delving into the being, to know nothing of this exile, a depressive subject, like all of us, chooses a strategy that seems most safe (by the way, it is also the most dangerous one) – he refuses to embrace the modality to have with all its risks as well as benefits. Consequently, he finds himself hung up in a certain neutral space in-between to be and to have. A depressive subject no longer is but he does not use the resources he has.

This is a depressive subject’s retreat, his moral cowardice which makes him feel guilty. This is complemented by the feeling of dissonance with the epoch which pushes him towards self-improvement, self-realization, and self-satisfaction – here the two languages of depression come together.


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