have you read Anatomy Of Melancholy, by Robert Burton, written in the 17th century?
melancholy have existed since the beginning of man, well documented in stories, songs and lyrics etc....wish i could think of more good examples now, but of course my mind went completely blank- will come back and post up more later...
Black Sun by Julia Kristeva is also a good primer, a bit theory-heavy/academic take, though-
during Romanticism/the romantic era, it was highest fashion to wallow in melancholia and escapism/longing for "higher spheres"- cause of much godawful poetry and writing, but also some brilliance...
I wrote a reply to this and then somehow deleted it. A summary of sorts: I read the first six pages of Black Sun on Amazon (the library will have to wait until Tuesday) and I can't help but think that the "abyss" of which Kristeva writes is fundamentally out-of-step with Melancholy Now. Isn't melancholy a positive thing these days? Sure, it contains sadness, but only as a tincture to innoculate against the original. Current instances of melancholy in literature, music, film = trying to be happy at all costs, in the face of ... (for Benjamin, the future was mind-bogglingly more horrific than any of us today could ever contemplate -- for Benjamin, the end of everything actually had a fucking face*).
As an example of the shift in melancholy, how many people think Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden is a genuinely depressive album? Only people on very speedy drugs. (Hockey players, also.) Would Kristeva (bearing in mind my six page understanding) think the same thing about it?
* -- I think we're all giving Chimpface W. Bush too much credit. He couldn't putsch his way out of a wet paper beer hall.
Don't worry, nothing to be caught. I'm just thinking out loud. The article I scanned to show that Dürer piece is good though, talks about about Benjamin's Trauerspiel (which I gather was the equivalent of his Phd thesis) wherein he explains how this engraving from 1514 "inaugurated an altogether new, even modern, sensibility." (The clue is all the things strewn around the feet of the melancholy-looking dude. And the hourglass.)