Depression and recovery: self-help and America in the 1930s

Currell, Sue (2006) Depression and recovery: self-help and America in the 1930s. In: Bell, David and Hollows, Joanne (eds.) Historicizing lifestyle: mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Ashgate, pp. 131-144. ISBN 9780754644415

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The normal man is an individual who lives in society and whose mode of life is so adapted that society derives a certain advantage from his work.From a psychological point of view he has enough energy and courage to meet the problems and difficulties as come along. (Adler 1929:103) A style of life is built up through the striving for a particular goal of superiority. (Adler 1929:117). The production and maintenance of a 'normal' life style, as pointed out by the American psychologist Alfred Adler in 1929, continues as a mainstream pursuit in lifestyle guides to this day. As Adler indicates above, embedded within this striving for `normality' is another goal that problematizes the first; that is, the goal of also achieving superiority by adjustments in lifestyle. Self-help guides and mass-market success literature proliferated in the twentieth century precisely because they could appeal in this protean way to readers insecurities and their pride. Yet these books relied on fixed definitions of normality, where the measurement of self-esteem, sanity, and social usefulness appeared possible because of the scientific application of social and psychological statistics that had been generated in the first few decades of the emerging social and psychological sciences. These statistics made it appear possible to categorize and define `normality' for the first time in history and made vagaries, such as `keeping ahead of the crowd' and meeting problems with correct amounts of `energy and courage,' appear scientific and measurable. These sentiments and attitudes now appear to hold less meaning with the break down of such rigid certainties in postmodern, multicultural, society. Despite this, self-help has continued to thrive. There are now vast offerings for those who seek lifestyle guidance. In a large book store there is an abundance of self-help books devoted to improving relationships, health, fitness, diet, beauty, family, children and fertility. According to these, self-help and self-improvement should begin before conception. Then there are others devoted to mental and educational improvements and accelerated learning techniques; a pseudo-scientific literature that treats the human as an underutilized machine with titles such as A User's Guide to the Brain, The Owner's Manual to the Brain, How Intelligent Are You? Brain Building in Just 12 Weeks, Speed Reading, Quantum Learning. These books offer strategies to `unlock' the vast potential that appears to be trapped inside the individual. The genre has become so successful in recent years that there is even a how-to guide for how-to guides titled Writing Successful Self-Help and How-To Books: Strategies for Developing a Bestselling Book, a title which suggests that the true success from success literature is for the best-selling author. In response to the proliferation of success guides the anti-self-help book has emerged to denounce the crassness of the formula in mirror-image satires of self-help: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Yoga for People who Cant Be Bothered to Do it, How to Be Idle. Again, the success of these titles relies on a broad understanding and general acceptance of what they pitch themselves against.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Depositing User: Sue Currell
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:20
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2012 11:05
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