History, Reviews

The Economist on Obsession

jacket imageIn a review titled “The double face of single-mindedness” The Economist yesterday reviewed Obsession: A History by Lennard J. Davis. In our own age, notes the review,

obsession is both a common mental illness and a cultural ideal. The two are connected, thinks Mr. Davis: twin results of a single process, and perhaps the inevitable consequence of modernity. In just a few decades “obsessive-compulsive disorder’ has gone from extremely rare—affecting one person in 2,000 according to a 1973 estimate—to extremely common, affecting two or three people in 100.

Obsessiveness as an ideal has been with us for several centuries at least. The reviewer takes note of Davis’ chapter on “graphomania—the madness of incessant writing.” Nineteenth-century novelists like Balzac and Zola devoted themselves to “the continuous, cumulative production of words.” In the words of the reviewer: “These writers knew they were sacrificing their lives to obsession, but they accepted the price and others lionized them for it.”
A bit like some bloggers we know.
Read an interview with Davis or listen to a podcast episode.