Preprint version. Published in History of Psychiatry, Volume 18, Issue 2, June 1, 2007, pages 157-178.
Copyright © 2007 Sage Publications.
The definitive version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0957154X06075214.
This paper considers the underexamined racial and nationalistic components of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century neurasthenic discourse to propose that neurasthenia was as much a discourse of modern American identity as it was a discourse of disease. By closely reading the medical and general texts which helped to popularize it, and by scrutinizing the context of its vogue and supposed subsequent decline, this paper shows how neurasthenia was intimately bound up with the era’s politics of race, nationalism and citizenship. Countering traditional understandings of the disease, this study suggests that neurasthenia did not simply anticipate but was pre-eminently preoccupied with the questions and crises of modernity; that it was not, after all, a quintessentially Victorian but a fundamentally modernist discourse, and a paradigmatic example of how the construction of a neurotic American subject was necessarily and inevitably a construction of a modern American subject.
English Language and Literature