13 March 2014 | 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

Visiting Lecture in Comparative Literature

Central House G01, 14 Upper Woburn Place London, WC1H 0NN
Open to

Tired Minds and Weary Bodies: Exhaustion and the Pathologization of Modernity

Dr Anna Katharina Schaffner (University of Kent)

Chair: Dr Florian Mussgnug (UCL)

The lecture analyses six theories of exhaustion-related illnesses ranging from the early eighteenth century to the present day. It commences with George Cheyne’s "The English Malady" (1733), then turns to George M. Beard’s "American Nervousness: Its Causes and Consequences" (1881), Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s "On Healthy and Sick Nerves" (1885), and Freud’s reflections on human energy and its depletion, before concluding with an assessment of Alain Ehrenberg’s "The Weariness of the Self" (1998) and Jonathan Crary’s "24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep" (2013). It explores the ways in which these writers use medical ideas about exhaustion as a starting point for more wide-ranging cultural critiques that are bound up with specific technological and social transformations. In all of these accounts, exhaustion-related illnesses such as nervous weakness, neurasthenia, melancholia, depression and insomnia have become vehicles for the articulation of cultural discontent.

Anna Katharina Schaffner is the Head of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Kent. She has published on various modernist writers, on sexology, the avant-garde and on David Lynch. Her latest monograph is Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850-1930 (2012). She is currently working on a cultural history of exhaustion.