Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

The depressive as society's seismograph

A future without a future. Depression as a political problem and the alternative narratives of art
To regain faith in the future and the ability to steer away from the collapse of the world, we must begin with the imagination.


"You can know a society about its diseases – and the dominant one today is depression." This is how the Danish literary writer and author Mikkel Krause Frantzen begins his book A future without a future. Depression as a political problem and the alternative narratives of art. Frantzen acknowledges the psychological research, but his errand in A future without a future is not to look for causes of mental illness in childhood traumas or just to say it is society's fault. On the other hand, he sees depression as a "time-typical feeling", an "event that crystallizes some major problems in the epoch in which it unfolds". According to Frantzen, the depressive is a kind of seismograph whose special sensitivity reveals the weaknesses of society.

Depression is political

"I can no longer power, the race is running, my working life is empty and does not create any real meaning or change." The depressive speaks of himself – but this is also a political statement, a reflection of a system that is always about being on top and assertive. It is such individuals that need to be bred today – and those who fall outside can feel it everywhere.

The individual's psychological structure reproduces everywhere the structures of current politics and economics.

The engine of neoliberalism is not the consumer, but the production man – the citizen as an entrepreneur. The state is not a protector, but a company. The citizen is not a consumer first, but a producer: he must first and foremost produce and sell himself as a commodity.

As the days go by for those who are able to hang out in the rut, they drag themselves off and ring the depressed. Now he has it "bad" – but for a long time he also had it "busy", implicitly productive, dynamic, a winner. That's it – we're constantly lying about ourselves. The truth is that it goes up and down, every day; we are tired, sad, we are hurt. But the abiding requirement of success and individual happiness makes honesty difficult. The economy works on high pressure in the individual's nervous life, as a moral requirement to deal with one's life by constantly increasing one's competitiveness – its so-called human capital. All of our actions and relationships must be judged on what pays off. We must constantly optimize ourselves, be outreach, visible, communicative. – yes, prostitute us and speak ourselves up. Win or lose – you are responsible for your ups and downs. This line of thinking has spread as if on a crusade, and is pushing many into loneliness and even suicide.

To lose all faith

Frantzen wants something completely different than delivering yet another book on stress, burnout and efficiency in modern working life; he will show how the psychological structure of the individual reproduces the structures of current politics and economics everywhere. Through writers such as Michel Houllebecq and Theis Ørntoft (see p. XX, ed.) And the filmmaker Lars von Trier, he shows the widespread feeling of living in a world on the road of hinges, and that the way we are brought up to Thinking about does not give prospects of any alternative. One crisis replaces the other – it's all about rescue packages and the status quo.

The belief in happiness as something that can be measured objectively, and the requirement to have a positive one mindset today are interconnected with the political competition mentality. Frantzen calls it an "economic realism". This mindset propagates into our very way of being human. The result is "the realistic as a slow degradation of all that is essential" (Andkjær Olsen).

Down below, the void lurks, emptiness and longing, and we begin to ask ourselves what we really live for. Because we are unable to do anything but NetOp to seek pleasure and the short-term gain, the pervasive realism of the economy reinforces the depressive state.

With few exceptions, the whole spectrum of politics rests on economic realism. The left is also stuck in the notion that stories, fairy tales and myths are merely seductive ideology and therefore useless as social criticism (Althusser, Mouffe and others).

The prevalence of depression in our time, according to Frantzen, is a symptom of a spiritual crisis in Western societies. The climate threat is particularly revealing: We have knowledge of what needs to be done, but do not act accordingly. We lack a belief, an overall narrative – more precisely: We lack the illusions necessary to imagine what life and the world could be as well. For illusions are not only something negative that seduces us with false promises, as in dogmatic religion, but also images and forms that can give new outlook and animate our thoughts to a more meaningful life.

The loss of imagination

Changing the world is about learning to see. To those who say it is unrealistic or naïve, Frantzen recalls that "both democracy, women's suffrage, space travel, homosexuality and the Internet [...] emerged as unrealistic and utopian science fiction, until they became reality".

Yes, we may have forgotten how many major political movements as in the last century sprang from the small: the innovation in avant-garde, futurism, the women's movement, among Russian revolutionaries, philosophers and social analysts.

Today we are waiting for the next iPhone, ski vacation, Netflix series and interest rate change. When Danes and Norwegians say things are going well, it is this wealth they are thinking of: enjoyment, well-being and short-term gain. You punish the young people to get out of the job market as quickly as possible, make money, become winners in the adult races. A "realism that says that there is only what is" – in which all actions are directed at economics, consumerism and individualism.

As Frantzen emphasizes, the dominant happiness and consumption narrative of the time causes a sharp contraction of our life. A rich life seeks out new forms, the unpredictable, trying to spot something else, perhaps taking a detour from the beaten path or connecting with unknown forces. That's what we have the stories for. The adventure is not something that comes after the reality, like a little icing on top of the cake. No, "the world begins with the fairytale. Reality is always more than what is ».

"I'm tired [...] there are too few hobbies in my life," Frantzen quotes one of the characters in Christian Lollike's play All My Dreams Come True. About depression and adventure. So: We have lost the adventure. And not only have we enchanted the world, but also lost faith in the enigmatic life – on the beauty, the mystery.

The hope: to get there. Frantzen takes issue with the idea that we cannot change society but only ourselves (therapy and pills). He highlights the importance of new, committed communities and a new paradigm for a climate-driven economy. Frantzen is neither a doomsday pessimist nor a jubilant optimist – but we believe we are facing a grief work: letting go of some of our wealth will hurt. It is here that art, education and thinking can help us. We must "learn to hope," says Frantzen with the German philosopher Ernst Bloch: learning to get a language for the common human. As the Danish poet Kasper Nefer Olsen wrote a couple of years ago:

you cannot improve the world

with pills and reforms

but the world can improve you

if you can see it

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

You may also like