A nice historical coincidence is that John Updike shared a room at Harvard with Christopher Lasch. Characters in Updike’s novels desperately pursue their “psychic self-improvement” in promiscuity, acquisition and introspection. Lasch wrote of such baby boomers in his non-fiction works. The difference is that while the novelist was inclined to celebrate them, Lasch was diagnosing cultural malaise.
In The Culture of Narcissism, his most famous book, Lasch took a scalpel to the West and found it to be bloated yet also undernourished; fat on the products of material success yet starved of meaning and identity. “Narcissism”, to his mind, was not merely self-love but an insecurity that leads its sufferers to crave validation. It is not, then, to employ achingly modern terms, the mere taking of a selfie but the desperate yearning for likes, comments and shares.
As a stylist, Lasch offered substantive insight with few additional pleasures. In…
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