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By Will Rees
Categories: Social Science
Paperback : 9781552454848, 208 pages, March 2025
Expected to ship: 2025-03-11

The Empathy Exams of health anxiety: a personal, literary, and cultural examination of hypochondria from Kafka to Seinfeld.

A free-wheeling philosophical essay, Hypochondria combines incisive contemporary cultural critique, colourful literary history, and the author’s own experience of chronic health anxiety to ask what we might learn from the hypochondriac’s discomforting experience of their body. 

Hypochondria is unashamedly capacious in its range of references, from the writings of hypochondriacs such as Franz Kafka and Charlotte Brontë to novel yet accessible readings of theorists such as Lauren Berlant and Maurice Blanchot. Whether he is discussing Seinfeld, John Donne, Robert Burton, Susan Sontag, FitBits, sleep 'hygiene,' or the so-called narcissism epidemic, Rees treats his topic with a mixture of humour and seriousness while revealing himself to be an astute reader of all sorts of texts – not sparing even himself with his own astute and irreverent takes on this popular ailment. 

An exercise in what Freud calls 'evenly suspended attention,' Hypochondria demonstrates the rewards – and perils – of reading (too) closely the common but typically overlooked aspects of our lives. 

"In Hypochondria, Will Rees pulls off an almost impossible balancing act. He recalls his personal history with great clarity and vulnerability, and he assembles a dazzling archive of his fellow writers and hypochondriacs: Melville, Kafka, Freud, Sartre, Didion. Hypochondria, Rees shows us, is a specific case of fantasizing about what we cannot know – we are all, in our own ways, hypochondriacs." – Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers

"Hypochondria is a beautifully written, exacting, exquisite piece of literature and an urgent intervention into a deeply necessary conversation that has languished in the shadows for far too long. This book is as clever as it is brave, and it will change and move everyone who reads it. To capture the intricacies of our relationship with illness, both individually and in our collective consciousness, is one of the most difficult things a writer can do – Will has done it perfectly. Everyone must read this book." – Lucia Osborne-Crowley, author of The Lasting Harm

"I marvelled at this elegant and intellectually capacious book. Unmoored by its elusive subject, Rees innovates an utterly engrossing mode of inquiry that seems forged from the very material of hypochondria itself — radical doubt. And, like all good hypochondriacs, this book is many things at once: a philosophical intrigue, a meticulous catalogue of symptoms, a literature of writerly ailments, and a gripping tale of desire’s shadow. Here are hypochondria’s many indignities, but also its raptures and romance. What emerges from Rees’s ability to dwell in uncertainty is proof of doubt’s generative potential; its questions are insistent and hard-won vital signs. What if we are what we read? What if health is little more than blissful ignorance? What if we can never be sure of just how sick we really are?" – Daisy Lafarge, author of Paul