obsession: a history

Obsession, claims Lennard J. Davis, a professor of English and a specialist in disability studies, has always been with us, but "there is a moment in the Western world when obsession became so problematic that people began to write about it, study it, turn it into a medical problem, and then try to cure it." He locates that moment in the mid 18th century and offers a history of how obsession has plagued and stimulated lives since.

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By Marcia TuckerEdited and with an introduction by Liza LouUniversity of California Press [224pp., $27.50]By William GraebnerUniversity of Chicago Press [218pp., $20]By Marjorie GarberPrinceton University Press [272pp., $24.95]By Thomas DummHarvard University Press [208pp., $23.95]By Max PageYale University Press [280pp., $37.50]By Lennard J. DavisUniversity of Chicago Press [272pp., $27.50]

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Despite rather turgid prose, Lennard's quite good at showing how obsession is characterized "both as a dreaded disease [obsessive-compulsive disorder] and as a noble and necessary endeavor." Yet in his desire to provide a comprehensive overview of the "social, cultural, historical, anthropological, and political" perspectives on obsession, he all but ignores the medical one. He resists genetic and chemical explanations and has a strong reaction to imaging studies that may locate the disorder in a particular area of the brain, wondering if we will eventually dismiss murder or religious experience as resulting from a "broken brain."

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