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Monomania: The Flight from Everyday Life in Literature and Art 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0801489860
ISBN-10: 0801489865
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Monomania is a rich and compelling study of an often misunderstood condition. . . . Marina van Zuylen's interest lies in analyzing monomania as an all-too-common yearning for absolutes that transcends the nineteenth century and permeates literature, art, and life even today. Her book offers a fascinating philosophical and psychological consideration of the desire to organize one's existence around a stable ideal, and the corresponding anxiety that life is otherwise meaningless or empty. Drawing on various sources―case studies, letters, and biographies in addition to fiction, philosophy, and art―van Zuylen illuminates monomania's role in a range of practices and predilections. Myriad idées fixes coalesce around the drive to establish the coherence that life lived freely fails to provide. The desire unites the artist fleeing reality for abstraction, the nineteenth-century housewife seeking a master in her mate, the hypochondriac focusing ever inward on his or her body, and even the academic obsessed with productivity."―Laura Spagnoli, French Forum, Fall 2007

"Monomania is highly original, deeply learned, intelligent, and thoughtful. It is also engagingly and agreeably written. Marina van Zuylen fruitfully combines psychological and literary issues, achieving a balance between attention to specific authors and a strong central argument. She successfully brings together the inner problematics of literature-the act of writing, the choice of the writing life, the investment in form and style-and the literary imagination of the psychology of human thought and behavior."―William Paulson, author of Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities

"As we turn these learned pages on modernist fanaticism, obsession, compulsion, and idées fixes, we come to recognize the figure in the mirror: the monomaniac is us. Marina van Zuylen's gentle irony and dry wit make this richly written book a delight to read."―Janet Beizer, Harvard University

"This is an enthralling book―I found myself monomaniacally lecturing anyone who came near about its ideas. Marina van Zuylen revives a concept of obsession broader than that currently used in psychiatry, and in doing so makes it easier to see what the urge to create literature can have in common with such states as obsessive grief, hypochondriasis, and perfectionism. Monomania is not only a theory-rich delight for students of literature and culture, it has practical implications for clinicians―and for any general reader who has felt the seductive tug of being a jealous lover, a tchotchke collector, or a workaholic."―Alice Flaherty MD, PhD, Director, Movement Disorders Fellowship, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and author of The Midnight Disease : The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain

"This intriguing book is finally about our relationship to time―plain time that is at once too dull and too rich for us to bear―and how it invests modern art with esthetic urgency. Marina van Zuylen's case studies of notable modernist monomaniacs are poignant in their precise appreciation of the risks and riches of the idée fixe. We come to feel we understand these characters all too well ! A dim but haunting awareness of one's own susceptibility to the 'fear of everyday life' grows in the reader , engendering a kind of double reading that performs the very ambiguity of monomania so precisely revealed by van Zuylen's analysis. I read this beautifully written book monomaniacally."―Suzanne Guerlac, University of California, Berkeley

"In the same way as Rene Girard analyzed the structure of mimetic desire in his groundbreaking Deceit, Desire and the Novel of 1965, Marina van Zuylen constructs the history of what seems at first an obsolete psychological affliction by ordering a series of case studies into a teleological march through time―from Flaubert's to ours. She reactivates notions that had fallen into oblivion and in so doing proposes an entirely new reading of monomania as a symptom, or rather a coherent set of symptoms, of modern life."―Yve-Alain Bois, Harvard University

From the Inside Flap

"Monomania is highly original, deeply learned, intelligent, and thoughtful. It is also engagingly and agreeably written. Marina van Zuylen fruitfully combines psychological and literary issues, achieving a balance between attention to specific authors and a strong central argument. She successfully brings together the inner problematics of literature-the act of writing, the choice of the writing life, the investment in form and style-and the literary imagination of the psychology of human thought and behavior."—William Paulson, author of Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities

"As we turn these learned pages on modernist fanaticism, obsession, compulsion, and idées fixes, we come to recognize the figure in the mirror: the monomaniac is us. Marina van Zuylen's gentle irony and dry wit make this richly written book a delight to read."—Janet Beizer, Harvard University

"This is an enthralling book—I found myself monomaniacally lecturing anyone who came near about its ideas. Marina van Zuylen revives a concept of obsession broader than that currently used in psychiatry, and in doing so makes it easier to see what the urge to create literature can have in common with such states as obsessive grief, hypochondriasis, and perfectionism. Monomania is not only a theory-rich delight for students of literature and culture, it has practical implications for clinicians—and for any general reader who has felt the seductive tug of being a jealous lover, a tchotchke collector, or a workaholic."—Alice Flaherty MD, PhD, Director, Movement Disorders Fellowship, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, and author of The Midnight Disease : The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain

"This intriguing book is finally about our relationship to time—plain time that is at once too dull and too rich for us to bear—and how it invests modern art with esthetic urgency. Marina van Zuylen’s case studies of notable modernist monomaniacs are poignant in their precise appreciation of the risks and riches of the idée fixe. We come to feel we understand these characters all too well ! A dim but haunting awareness of one’s own susceptibility to the "fear of everyday life" grows in the reader , engendering a kind of double reading that performs the very ambiguity of monomania so precisely revealed by van Zuylen’s analysis. I read this beautifully written book monomaniacally."—Suzanne Guerlac, University of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (March 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801489865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801489860
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,570,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jane on May 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
It's rare that a book written by a comp. lit. professor is so riveting, and even relevant to real life. "Monomania" has changed the way I understand other people, and reinforced my faith in the importance of literature.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Phil O'Sofer on July 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
Essential reading for everyone. I came to realize that deep down inside, we are all monomaniacal.

Please, Prof. van Zuylen, write more!
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bruce P. Barten on September 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Clinging to wipe out

Warning: this review contains jokes about the inner circle of literary fem joy.

As Monomania (2005) by Marina Van Zuylen is not a book in which a question about a person becoming a man could be exalted as a serious question, it still pictures a character who asserts:

You must be a doctor!

As America faces a medical surge with millions of Americans approaching retirement within the next twenty years, it faces the collapse of a system in which doctors were responsible for determining what must be done as individuals approach death. Alice James escapes from her monstrous mass of subjective sensations when a doctore discovered that she had a lump that brings about death as the "solid emblem of a perverse kind of achievement." (p. 120). Social systems cling to dramatic forms of behavior for reasons that I associate with the book Games People Play by Eric Berne, M.D. Elias Canetti is an author who is pictured as ordering his "troops" by intellectual activity. Religion has made expectation of a "new immortal self" (p. 145) establishing universal harmony such a common feature of literary life that The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann is used to illustrate:

What with Doctor-God,
Nurse-Priestess,
and the pharmaceutical Eucharist,
the hospital is organized like a church. (p. 129).

The index of Monomania does not mention John Locke, but his kind of abstraction is a basic theme of George Eliot's novel Middlemarch in which "Casaubon's flight from the world" (p. 105) is an opposite to:

Reality, to Dorothea,
is synonymous with suffocation,
so to free herself from it,
she must passionately embrace
the most abstract of ideas
and live in the most otherworldly
of environments. (p.
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