Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities

How Self-Help Ate America.

How-to writers are to other writers as frogs are to mammals,” wrote the critic Dwight MacDonald in a 1954 survey of “Howtoism.” “Their books are not born, they are spawned.”

MacDonald began his story by citing a list of 3,500 instructional books. Today, there are at least 45,000 specimens in print of the optimize-everything cult we now call “self-help,” but few of them look anything like those classic step-by-step “howtos,” which MacDonald and his Establishment brethren handled only with bemused disdain. These days, self-help is unembarrassed, out of the bedside drawer and up on the coffee table, wholly transformed from a disreputable publishing category to a category killer, having remade most of nonfiction in its own inspirational image along the way.

Many of the books on Amazon’s current list of “Best Sellers in Self-Help” would have been unrecognizable to MacDonald: Times business reporter Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, a tour of the latest behavioral science; Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, a fable about an Andalusian shepherd seeking treasure in Egypt; Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a journalistic paean to reticence; publisher Will Schwalbe’s memoir The End of Your Life Book Club, about reading with his dying mother; and A Child Called “It,” David Pelzer’s recollections of harrowing and vicious child abuse. And these are just the books publishers identify as self-help; other hits are simply labeled “business” or “psychology” or “religion.” “There isn’t even a category officially called ‘self-help,’ ” says William Shinker, publisher of Gotham Books. Shinker discovered Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and now publishes books on “willpower” and “vulnerability”—“self-help masquerading as ‘big-idea’ books.”

Excerp from an article written by Boris Kachka at NYMAG. Continue HERE
Image above: “Me”, by Ed Ruscha. (Photo: Paul Ruscha/© Ed Ruscha/Courtesy of Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery (“Me”, 2001))

Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities · Philosophy

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying

The question of how to lead a happy and meaningful life has been at the heart of philosophical debate since time immemorial. Today, however, these questions seem to be addressed not by philosophers but self-help gurus, who frantically champion the individual’s quest for self-expression and self-realization; the desire to become authentic.

Against these new age sophistries, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying tackles the question of ‘how to live’ by forcing us to explore our troubling relationship with death. For Critchley, philosophy begins with the question of finitude and with his understanding of a key classical theme – that to philosophize is to learn how to die. Learning how to accept both our own and others’ mortality as a part of life also raises the question of how to love. Critchley argues that the act of love requires us to give up something of ourselves, to lose control so as to be open to the demands of love. We will never be equal to this demand and so we are brought face to face with our own limitations – one form of which is what Critchley calls our ‘originary inauthenticity’. By scrutinizing the very nature of humour, Critchley explores what we need to laugh at ourselves and presents the need to confront the inescapable ridiculousness of life.

Reflecting on the work of over 20 years, this book provides a unique, witty and erudite introduction to the thought of Simon Critchley. It includes a revealing biographical conversation with Critchley and a fascinating debate with the critically acclaimed novelist Tom McCarthy about the nature of authenticity. Taken together the conversations give an intimate portrait of one of the most lucid, provocative and engaging philosophers writing today.

Text and Image via Polity Books