In Praise of Wilder Lives. An Anti-Self-Help Manifesto

Never have there been more books, TED Talks, classes and podcasts about how to become thinner, healthier and happier. The message pushed by the self-help industry is simple: success and happiness in this world are a personal choice — and we buy it. The self-help industry is one of the largest industries on the planet and shows no sign of slowing down. Meanwhile, burn outs, depressions and psychological disorders are only on the rise.

Original title
Marian Donner

In Praise of Wilder Lives turns this ideology on its head: rather than ask what’s wrong with us, we need to ask what’s wrong with the world. The self-help industry is part of a larger system of beliefs that undermines us as individuals, precisely by convincing us that we have no choice but to keep up. Lurking behind the relentless drive to ‘love’ and ‘care’ for ourselves is a tacit agreement to be constantly productive and ready to work. That’s how we’ve been taught to succeed in this neoliberal economy.

By dissecting popular culture, Marian Donner makes a compelling case to resist a system that is tearing us down. To do so we will need to re-imagine the very things we take for granted as true and, above all: realistic. Picturing another world begins and ends with taking another view on the human body. While they quantify and monetize our behaviour, businesses let us chase after physically impossible ideals. Being a living, breathing human today seems like an almost impossible ask. The less we stink or bleed the better. Failing and inefficient decisions are no longer options for the successful individual.

Playfully provocative and compellingly written, this book will bring to mind those written by rebellious essayists like Katie Roiphe (In Praise of Messy Lives). Donner effortlessly mixes the likes of Brad Pitt, Samuel Beckett, Slavoj Žižek, Virginia Woolf and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, allowing each of them to convince.

This is a rousing call to loosen up, swap rigour for forgiveness — to fail, improvise, be unhealthy and ugly, sweat, stink, differ from the norm. Be fat, old, unhealthy. Walk around with yellow teeth and sweaty palms. Set your wrinkles and potbelly against the health and happiness hegemony. Because it’s not about you, it’s about transforming the world. We agreed to this one, and that means we still have the power to change it.

An anti-capitalist self-help book.

NRC Handelsblad

A plea for more messiness and less careerism in which Donner defends the losers: people who can’t keep up or deviate from the norm also have important value.

Het Parool
Marian Donner
Marian Donner (b. 1974) was born and grew up in Amsterdam. She studied psychology before working in politics, hospitality and international development.
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