On page 170, Butler (citing Freud) distinguishes between melancholia and mourning: in mourning, the object is "declared" lost, but in melancholia, no declaration is possible. Melancholia therefore paves the way for mourning. Is Butler calling for a move from the expression of melancholia for a loss that we cannot declare to open mourning for our losses and declaration for withdrawn objects? She seems to suggest as much on page 148: "The emergence of collective institutions for grieving are crucial to our survival, to reassembling community.... they call for being read as life-affirming rejoinders to the dire psychic consequences of a grieving process culturally thwarted and proscribed." What would declaring our loss do for our psyches? But on pages 172-173, she presents Freud's take on mourning--that the ideal may be substituted for the person in mourning, rendering the person unknowable. We can all too easily mourn for ideals, not the people lost. I'm not sure what my core question is here--perhaps it's 'what is Butler's final word on mourning?'

See whether this passage helps, from Judith Butler's TKO in round three of the Butler-Phillips card:

'Phillips is right to warn psychoanalysis against an idealization of mourning itself, the sacralization of mourning as the consummate psychoanalytic ritual...But what breaks the hold of grief except the cultivation of the aggression grief holds at bay against the means by which it is held at bay? Part of what sustains and extends the period of mourning is precisely the prohibition against expressing aggression toward what is lost - in part //because// that lost one has abandoned us, and in the sacralization of the object, we exclude the possibility of raging against that abandonment. What are the affirmative consequences of a mimetic acting out as it works, within a psychoanalytic frame, to theatricalize that aggression without ethical consequence, and to articulate, for the purposes of self-reflection, through a set of "acts" the logic of repudiation by which they are motivated?' (pp.162-3)

I think the 'institutions of grieving' from your post are the kind of victims-of-AIDS awareness groups that Butler writes of, 'theatrical settings' or 'ethical vacuums' wherein society can work through the grief and aggression of its melancholic relationship with regard to homosexuality without the sort of earlier repressive passive aggression ('How come //they// get to cruise?' was one of Butler's examples, but I won't be able to find the page number) but also, I'm guessing, without violent eruptions of awful hate crimes. Mourning, then, can be worked through without sacralizing the object of loss and sustaining an indefinite mourning.

I'm not sure whether this addresses your core question, or even whether it addresses any of the ancillary ones, but it's the passage I was reminded of when reading your post.

--Guattari Hero

I think Butler wants to define mourning (and pretty much everything else) as a form of melancholy - this comes through particularly well from 190 to 193, where she walks through Freud's failure to distinguish melancholy from mourning. Melancholy is structured by an ambivalence between the loss of an object and the refusal/internalization of that loss. By 193, Butler starts using terms like "struggle between life and death." My understanding is that the ambivalence of melancholy maps onto this struggle by equating the trauma of the lost object with a desire to follow it into death and the internalization of the loss with a retainment of the loss in life. Mourning becomes a form of melancholy insofar as it implies this ambivalence as something to work through. Beyond this my reading of melancholy v. mourning gets even more hazy and confused. I think Butler views mourning as a turning of the death-drive against the lost object, a second loss of the internalized loss object, that is is supposed to 'convince the subject to life' - in light of mourning, melancholic life is apparently a sort of semi-death. But, then, by 195 there is 'no end to mourning' and then by 196 what we're always mourning is the autonomy we never had. There follows an exchange of blows between the superego/conscience, the ego and the lost object (and the death-drive? I'm not sure where this comes in) that I found very bewildering and left me with no idea who kills whom...