Wilfred Bion, a mid-twentieth-century pioneer of the psychoanalysis of groups, described a group as the repository of the mad parts of ourselves. The group helps us to tame our madness, but it may also exaggerate it, reviving infantile trends, and an anxious group will typically select its maddest member as its leader. The mad leader is a kind of baby king, an avatar of our infantile past, who licenses a departure from reality and, in particular, a denial of our own badness. That is to say, the mania of a mad president relieves us of the responsibility to mourn. Afflicted as we are by a manic negation of reality—the realities of climate change, nuclear armaments, the pain of others—Nixon argues that we also live in a time of mass melancholia. For the author the confrontation of such a psychical reality of melancholia is necessary for our survival, and writers, teachers, and artists must help turn it into creative resistance.

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