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Exhaustion: A History
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Today our fatigue feels chronic; our anxieties, amplified. Proliferating technologies command our attention. Many people complain of burnout, and economic instability and the threat of ecological catastrophe fill us with dread. We look to the past, imagining life to have once been simpler and slower, but extreme mental and physical stress is not a modern syndrome. Beginning in classical antiquity, this book demonstrates how exhaustion has always been with us and helps us evaluate more critically the narratives we tell ourselves about the phenomenon. Medical, cultural, literary, and biographical sources have cast exhaustion as a biochemical imbalance, a somatic ailment, a viral disease, and a spiritual failing. It has been linked to loss, the alignment of the planets, a perverse desire for death, and social and economic disruption. Pathologized, demonized, sexualized, and even weaponized, exhaustion unites the mind with the body and society in such a way that we attach larger questions of agency, willpower, and well-being to its symptoms. Mapping these political, ideological, and creative currents across centuries of human development, Exhaustion finds in our struggle to overcome weariness a more significant effort to master ourselves.
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Beginning in classical antiquity, this book demonstrates how exhaustion has always been with us and helps us evaluate more critically the narratives we tell ourselves about the phenomenon. Pathologized, demonized, sexualized, and even weaponized, exhaustion unites the mind with the body and society in such a way that we attach larger questions of agency, willpower, and well-being to its symptoms. Exhaustion finds in our struggle to overcome weariness a more significant effort to master ourselves.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction 1. Humors 2. Sin 3. Saturn 4. Sexuality 5. Nerves 6. Capitalism 7. Rest 8. The Death Drive 9. Depression 10. Mystery Viruses 11. Burnout Epilogue: The Future Notes Bibliography Index

About the Author

Anna Katharina Schaffner is reader in comparative literature and medical humanities at the University of Kent. She has published on the histories of sexuality and psychoanalysis, modernist literature, and the avant-garde. Her most recent book is Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850-1930 (2012).

Reviews

Exhaustion is fluently written and brilliantly argued, and it will provoke thoughtful minds with the suggestion that exhaustion has a history. -- Edward Shorter, author of How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown Exhaustion is an impressive, accomplished, and original book, one that promises to command a wide cross-disciplinary readership. A formidable amount of reading and research has gone into this work, which stretches from classical antiquity to the present day, yet Anna Katharina Schaffner marshals her material confidently and carries her learning lightly. Her book is a pleasure to read. -- Michael Greaney, author of Conrad, Language, and Narrative Schaffner's imaginative and ambitious work offers rich materials with which to think about exhaustion. -- Thomas Dixon Times Literary Supplement When Exhaustion does bring theory and experience together, it becomes engrossing-which makes it all the more regrettable that for so many centuries, our exhausted ancestors remained silent. -- Hanna Rosefield New Republic A fascinating study of the ways in which doctors and philosophers have understood the limits of the human mind, body - and energy.BBC Futures -- David Robson BBC Futures A timely contribution to a neglected field of study. BMJ Medical Humanities Blog

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