Essay: The Burnout of Almost Everyone

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Burnout has a way of turning the sovereign self (as we thought of it once, long ago) into a victim, submissive, but passive-aggressive, as psychologists say; it is like a declaration of bankruptcy—necessary sometimes, but also somewhat irresponsible and undignified. It is a million-dollar wound, an excuse, a ticket out. The era of "grace under pressure" vanished in the early '60s. Burnout is the perfect disorder for an age that lives to some extent under the Doctrine of Discontinuous Selves. It simply declares one's self to be defunct, out of business; from that pile of ash a new self will arise. In the democracy of neurosis, everyone is entitled to his own apocalypse. Burnout becomes the mechanism by which people can enact their serial selves, in somewhat the way that divorce permits serial marriages. In some cases, the serial selves of burnout are like the marshmallows that Cub Scouts thrust into the campfire flame. They hold them there until they are charred, peel away the blackened outer skin and eat it, then thrust the soft white marshmallow into the flame again, repeating the process until there is nothing left.— By Lance Morrow

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