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Desk Diseases

Desk Diseases

(p.122) 4 Desk Diseases
Accounting for Capitalism
Michael Zakim
University of Chicago Press

Capitalist life was plagued by an epidemic of nervous disorders, a somatic expression of the prevailing ethic of “goaheadtiveness” and the price men paid for having abandoned the productive arts. But these “desk diseases” also served to bring the age’s disorder under control, doing so, moreover, on individualism's own fitful terms. “Every human being is responsible for the care of his own health, and the preservation of his own life,” as Edward Jarvis determined in a Primary Physiology for Schools, instructing pupils and families alike that illness was no longer to be considered a heavenly punishment visited upon humanity in retribution for its sins, but a condition “of our own begetting” whose cure would issue from the same source, that is, would also be of our own begetting. Proper methods of bathing, sleeping, eating, and exercising consequently emerged as the tenets of liberal self-government, training individuals in how to minister their own bodies, and, in so doing, secure the welfare of the body politic. Disease, as such, brought a welcome dose of organic certainty to a tautological age in which success had become its own reward.

Keywords:   hysteria, dyspepsia, male bodies, physical education, gymnastics, self control, eating disorders, physiology, chronic fatigue

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