Where Have All the Neurotics Gone? – NYTimes.com
SOME cultural archetypes leave the stage with a flourish, or at least some foot stomping. All those pith-helmeted colonialists, absinthe-addled poets and hippie gurus founding 1970s utopias: They made some noise, if not always much sense, before being swallowed by history.
Yet one modern American type is slipping into the past without a rattle or even its familiar whimper — the neurotic.
For a generation of postwar middle-class Americans, being neurotic meant something more than merely being anxious, and something other than exhibiting the hysteria or other disabling mood problems for which Freud used the term. It meant being interesting (if sometimes exasperating) at a time when psychoanalysis reigned in intellectual circles and Woody Allen reigned in movie houses.
That it means little now, to most Americans, is evidence of how strongly language drives the perception of mental struggle, both its sources and its remedies. In recent years psychiatrists have developed a more specialized medical vocabulary to describe anxiety, the core component of neurosis, and as a result the public has gained a greater appreciation of its many dimensions. But in the process we’ve lost entirely the romance of neurosis, as well as its physical embodiment — a restless, grumbling, needy presence that once functioned in the collective mind as an early warning system, an inner voice that hedged against excessive optimism.