Although Philippe Ariès’s claims that death has been replaced by illness as our main obsession, I argue that illness is being replaced by wellness, an approach to living that encourages preemptive behavior. I review various critiques of “survivalism,” a view that both insists on our vulnerability and welcomes professional intervention in personal life. The resulting sense of anxiety, critics maintain, extends even to the “minutiae of human behavior,” including diet and fitness. I follow Jackson Lears in tracing these therapeutic commitments to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and examine a novel set in that period: T. C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville, a satire about the perils of healthy living. I conclude by adapting Michael Sandel’s arguments against genetic enhancement to the issue of health.


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pp. 486-506
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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