Psychology

Obsession: The TV Show

May 27, 2009
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Obsession: The TV Show

Did you catch the premiere Monday night of A&E’s new candid reality show Obsessed? (If you missed it, you can watch full episodes at AETV.) The program follows sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder that, according to the title cards at the beginning of the show, affects 3.3 million Americans. In the first episode, Helen, who suffers panic attacks while driving and must check and recheck her alarm clock before bed, and Scott, a germaphobe who sleeps on his couch because making the bed perfectly every morning would prove too insurmountable, get relief from their debilitating rituals through intensive behavioral therapy. At the end of the episode, viewers learn than Helen can now drive on the freeway and Scott has welcomed a new housemate—a dog. With this television show’s debut, OCD had entered the living rooms of all cable subscribers. And chances are, many viewers will recognize a bit of themselves in the participants portrayed on their screens. But OCD wasn’t always so prevalent. The psychological disorder was considered very rare—afflicting perhaps one in twenty thousand—only thirty years ago. So how did we go from that to a world where OCD gets its own reality show so quickly? Lennard . . .

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Who is the Gold Leaf Lady?

April 23, 2009
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Who is the Gold Leaf Lady?

On a slow day in Northampton, Mass., after they had seen the only movie in town, Stephen Braude’s friends convinced him to play “this game called table-up”—or, in other words, to have a seance. Thus began the “sordid and complicated tale” of Braude’s exploration of the paranormal in everyday life—-a story whose most recent chapter is The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations. In a conversation this week with his colleague Rennie Short—currently airing on the University of Maryland Baltimore County YouTube channel—Braude discusses his evolution from a hard-nosed materialist to a president of the Parapsychological Association. Along the way, he discusses some of the most fascinating case studies from The Gold Leaf Lady—including, of course, the book’s namesake. After watching the video, you can learn even more in this excerpt. . . .

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Chris Otter on the political history of gaslight

January 21, 2009
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Chris Otter on the political history of gaslight

Chris Otter, author of The Victorian Eye: A Political History of Light and Vision in Britain, 1800-1910 is today’s guest on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed. On the program Otter joins host Laurie Taylor and Lynda Nead, Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London, to discuss the political and social changes brought about in 19th century Britain by the use of gas lighting. Tune in at the Thinking Allowed website after the live broadcast, or find out more about Otter’s book. . . .

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We live in an age of obsession

December 1, 2008
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We live in an age of obsession

Cultural critic Julia Keller has written an interesting article about Lennard J. Davis’s new book Obsession: A History for the lifestyle section of the Sunday Chicago Tribune. In her article, Keller notes how “obsessive” behavior has come to define our culture, though in a very polarized way. We admire those whose drive leads them to professional or athletic success. But we also might recommend someone who can’t stop washing their hands every five minutes, or spends hours straightening the picture frames in their living room, to go find a good psychologist to help them with their OCD. In her article Keller quotes Davis: “To be obsessive is to be American, to be modern.” Yet the term has never been a stable category. When does an eccentricity become an obsession? When does a quirk become a pathology? You can’t understand obsession, the professor believes, without considering “the social, cultural, historical, anthropological and political” swirl in which it lives. And in Obsession Davis does just that, tracing the evolution of obsessive behavior from a social and religious fact of life into a medical and psychiatric problem. From obsessive aspects of professional specialization to obsessive sex and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes . . .

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Obsession—illness or ideal?

November 20, 2008
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Obsession—illness or ideal?

We were pleased to note this morning that Lennard J. Davis’s new book, Obsession: A History is the frontpage story in this week’s Chicago Reader. The article by the Reader‘s Deanna Isaacs focuses both on Davis himself and on the way his book complicates the common notion of obsession as a medical disorder, demonstrating that it’s actually much more prevalent in modern society than one might guess: We live in an age of obsession, some of us sick with it and some of us wildly successful because of it. If you ran the appointed number of miles for your workout this morning, took all your supplements, read the papers, perused all the necessary Web sites, and are planning to put in a focused, 10- or 12-hour day on the job, you’re headed down the culturally approved obsessive path to reward. If, on the other hand, you’re mopping your kitchen floor ten times a day or heading to the sink for your 80th hand-washing, hoarding every plastic bag you ever got at Jewel, and lying awake at night counting the lights in neighboring buildings, someone close to you is probably suggesting that you see a doctor, get a diagnosis, and take . . .

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Obsessive cover design

November 7, 2008
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Obsessive cover design

Here at the University of Chicago Press, publishing books of rich and valuable scholarship is all in a day’s work. And while most book reviews assess the learned content between the covers, occasionally a book is noted not just for the insight inside but for the package it comes in. Lennard Davis’s Obsession: A History is such a book. Professor Davis’s book was recently heralded by the Economist, but Isaac Tobin’s cover design has been trumpeted far and wide in the blogosphere, from Readerville to the Book Design Review. We think both Davis’s and Tobin’s achievements deserve wide praise. And the synchronicity of the two is just a bonus. As Readerville notes, “Extra points for the subtle implication that to even think of such a thing—much less actually do it—perfectly reflects the title.” Here’s to obsessive scholarship and obsessive design, together at last. . . .

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Sex addiction: The truth is out there

September 10, 2008
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Sex addiction: The truth is out there

A story on sex addiction in the Style section of Sunday’s New York Times caught our eye this weekend, so we asked our resident expert on obsessive behaviors, Lennard Davis, author of the forthcoming Obsession: A History, to weigh in on the phenomenon: Actor David Duchovny, who plays a sex-addicted writer in the TV series Californication, just checked himself into Meadows Rehab in Arizona for being, well, sex addicted in real life. This story is more than just one about life imitating art, it is also about sex addiction imitating drug and alcohol addiction. While there are a growing number of people who believe you can be addicted to sex—just as you can be addicted to shopping or to work—many psychological practitioners would disagree. Indeed, sex addiction is not currently in the DSM, the standard diagnostic manual for psychiatric disorders. Addiction, according to that guide, has to be an addiction to a substance. If you’re an alcoholic, it’s booze; if you’re a drug addict, it’s heroin or Percodans. But if you’re addicted to sex, what exactly is the substance? . . .

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The problems and possibilities of human intimacy

August 19, 2008
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The problems and possibilities of human intimacy

Yesterday’s Financial Times ran a positive review of Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips’ psychoanalytic exploration of human intimacy in their new book, Intimacies. Summarizing the work the FT‘s Salley Vickers writes: Taking the form of a conversation between this congenial but not necessarily like-minded pair, Intimacies explores the pitfalls and possibilities of human intimacy and the damage that a zeal to know ourselves and others can wreak. The exchange of views reflects the authors’ philosophies: differences are the source, not the stumbling blocks, of intimacy; distance should enhance not diminish pleasure in others’ company; and it is disastrous to take things personally. Read the full review on the Financial Times website. . . .

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The soft weapons of autobiography

July 31, 2008
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The soft weapons of autobiography

The July 31 edition of the London Review of Books has published several interesting articles focusing on two recent books, both of which offer some intriguing insights into the West’s engagement with Middle Eastern Muslim cultures in the twentieth century. As the LRB‘s Roxanne Varzi notes, Gillian Whitlock’s Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit is a fascinating exploration of modern Middle Eastern autobiography, that demonstrates how the genre has been used in Western society as a window into an often inaccessible culture, but perhaps more often is appropriated and commodified by Western culture to serve its own interests. In her article Varzi focuses on the latter phenomenon writing: “You shouldn’t overlook the what Gillian Whitlock in Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit, calls the paratext: the liminal features that surround the text, not just the book’s jacket and typeface but interviews with the author, reviews and commentaries. It is in transit, as commodities, that these narratives, which Whitlock calls ‘veiled memoirs,’ are shaped by and for the public. Whitlock reproduces an Audi ad that shows , outfitted in a cream suit, floating among shelves of books in a library (a library that contains no contemporary . . .

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Press Release: Carroll, Operation Homecoming

May 27, 2008
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Press Release: Carroll, Operation Homecoming

Operation Homecoming is the result of a major initiative launched by the National Endowment for the Arts to bring distinguished writers to military bases to inspire U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and their families to record their wartime experiences. Encouraged by such authors as Tom Clancy, Tobias Wolff, and Marilyn Nelson, American military personnel and their loved ones wrote candidly about what they saw, heard, and felt while in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as on the home front. These unflinching eyewitness accounts, private journals, short stories, and letters offer an intensely revealing look into extraordinary lives and are an unforgettable contribution to wartime literature. Read the press release. . . .

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