Obsession: A History

Obsession: A History

Obsession: A History

Obsession: A History

Synopsis

We live in an age of obsession. Not only are we hopelessly devoted to our work, strangely addicted to our favorite television shows, and desperately impassioned about our cars, we admire obsession in others: we demand that lovers be infatuated with one another in films, we respond to the passion of single-minded musicians, we cheer on driven athletes. To be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern.

But obsession is not only a phenomenon of modern existence: it is a medical category- both a pathology and a goal. Behind this paradox lies a fascinating history, which Lennard J. Davis tells in Obsession. Beginning with the roots of the disease in demonic possession and its secular successors, Davis traces 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 compulsive disorder and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes Davis's graceful analysis.

Excerpt

When I was around six or seven, I began to have thoughts about death and dying that I couldn't push out of my mind. I realized that I was mortal and would die. I'd lie in bed and panic, sweat, and thrash around wrestling with the inevitability of my personal demise. To get those thoughts out of my mind, I developed certain rituals. I would try to envision in my mind's eye a black kitten that I had actually earlier brought home and was allowed to keep only until nightfall. That mental image comforted me, as did the vision of a white and cleanly wrapped loaf of Silvercup bread, whose advertising campaign had no doubt made me feel the comfort of food and the safety of home. But mostly, I would lie in bed at night and look out my window at the apartment building next to mine. I decided that I had to count every single window that was illuminated, and once the thought occurred to me, I began to do it compulsively. Since the building was substantial, the count took a fair amount of time. After I had arrived at a total number of illuminated windows, I would begin to doubt whether I had counted correctly. I would then recount. Then it would occur to me that someone might have turned their lights on or off. So another recount was necessary. I did this for hours until I was exhausted.

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