Art and Architecture, History and Philosophy of Science, Psychology, Reviews

We live in an age of obsession

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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 Davis’s graceful cultural analysis.
To find out more read Keller’s article on the Tribune‘s website. Also read an interview with Davis or listen to his appearance on the Chicago Audio Works podcast.