Delectatio morosa

Since the 12th-century, there has been in Christian moral theology a notion of taking pleasure in “expectantly waiting (Lat. moratur) in the desire for an object that remains absent because it is inaccessible or prohibited” (Dictionary of Untranslatables, 792). It is not a delay of pleasure, but rather of pleasure in the delay of satisfied desire, that is enjoyed by and in the imagination. In other words, it is the pleasure that one derives from desiring, and it is this pleasure-in-desiring that affirms that there is pleasure inherent in desire itself—and thus not only in desire’s fulfillment (a point that was clear to Lacan in his reading of the “paradox of fore-pleasures” in Freud).

It is important to underline that this “morose delectation” is not the postponement or infinite deferral of pleasure, nor is it entirely divorced from desire. Rather, it is the pleasure that is enjoyed in the very relation to desire. Neither the negation nor the positive presence of the object of desire, delectatio morosa is what we might describe as a neutral yet wholly pleasurable relation to desire.

I am interested in this Scholastic notion because it strikes me that it provides us with a way to think about the “neutral mourning” that I have theorized in my recent reading of Roland Barthes as its own form of pleasure. What I suggested in that chapter of The Decision Between Us dedicated to Barthes, is that in the midst and in the wake of mourning the recent death of his mother, Barthes sought what he had described as “a desire for the neutral,” and that this desire was, at the same time, a desire for a vita nova (“new life”—the eponymous name for the “novel” that he had begun to outline just before he died).

Drawing from his knowledge of Zen Buddhism, his fascination with Rousseau’s far niente (doing nothing), and his memory of a young Moroccan boy sitting on a low wall, I argued that Barthes imagined the neutral (and mourning) as a scene of just sitting, doing nothing. “To be idle, without master, and yes, perhaps even to be without guide (mother), and finally to be able to just sit without equivocation, without profit or debt, sin, prostration, or will-to-possess…something like the neutral sitting of a neutral mourning.”  Drawing further upon the etymology of the Latin word morosus, we can now understand this scene of neutral mourning as a scene of pleasure—of delectatio morosa. “In Italian…morosita means ‘delay’ (particularly in acquitting oneself of a debt or an obligation)…and where the English “moroseness” is rendered by malinconia [“melancholy”]…and in Spanish, where…moroso means ‘lazy'” (Untranslatables, 792).

When mourning is the act of the imagination enjoying its waiting in desire, it is neutral. It is in this way that neutral mourning is neither morbidly morose mourning nor melancholia, but instead is a desire for the neutral and its own form of neutral pleasure.






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