In this long essay, Freud examines the puzzling phenomenon of individuals in civilised societies pointing to civilisation as the root of all evil. If you want to discover the meticulous, erudite, prescient scientist behind the caricature that Freud has become in contemporary culture – this succinct, clearly-reasoned analysis marrying history and psychology is a good starting-point.
I’ve featured Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth here before. I’ll keep featuring it. It changed my life. BM analyses how the pursuit of a standardised, impossible, high-maintenance physical beauty claims women’s time, money, health, sanity, & humanity. It’s a book every man & woman should read: it’s incisive about the ways in which advertising, industry, commerce, popular culture (inc. films & women’s magazines & porn), & even the healthcare industry collude to create a reality where health & happiness become almost impossible for millions of educated, sane citizens. (This is also why I repeatedly feature works on the Third Reich, inc. on & by Nazi leaders.)
The Stranger manages to disorient us, and dislocate our own comfortable ideas about what it means to live a human life. It’s not a comfortable book – but, like the best existentialist literature, it’s a book that may enable us to search our own souls, and see in ourselves a brother or a sister to criminals and to saints. It’s a book that may empower us to face the essential meaninglessness of life: in order to create meaning for ourselves.
Terry Eagleton’s Very Short Introduction to the Meaning of Life is a delectable, digestible introduction to landmark schools of thought whose debates on big questions have shaped European cultural history; and, via that route, global political history.