Will Davies quotes Alain Ehrenberg’s The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age:
Depression began its ascent [in the 1960s] when the disciplinary model for behaviours, the rules of authority and observance of taboos that gave social classes as well as both sexes a specific destiny, broke against norms that invited us to undertake personal initiative by enjoining us to be ourselves. These new norms brought with them a sense that the responsibility for our existence lies not only within us but also within the collective between-us. I try here to demonstrate that depression is the opposite of this paradigm. Depression presents itself as an illness of responsibility in which the dominant feeling is that of failure. The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself.
I think I need to read this book. Depression, by this interpretation, is what happens when the burdens of sharing, etc., the incentives to self-actualize through communication, become overwhelming. That burden, arguably, has been progressively made heavier by “communicative capitalism” and its incentives and ideological cajoling it offers for us to develop our personal brand. Davies’s gloss is that “the result is a paradoxical combination of narcissism and depression, whereby the individual projects an omnipotent ideal of who they truly are, but (like any ideal) one which their actions are never able to match.” This, perhaps, is the “new narcissism.” We grandiosely reconceive ourselves as a media company with a personal brand, but we never amass a sufficient amount of brand equity.
We must further attenuate our uniqueness and justify our precious sense of specialness, since it is no longer rooted in a traditional identity, in our social contribution to reproducing a particular community’s way of life. With self-fashioning subsumed by capital, capitalist logic now governs it, meaning it must be commodifed (as data) and exchangeable and then turn some sort of profit in being circulated. It needs to continually valorize itself. Thus the self we must become is not a “steady-state” self but a self always on the verge of “creative destruction” — a self that must continue to grow or die. We end up with an ideology that celebrates an entrepreneurial sort of self that is putatively free to fail, but a lived self that is ravaged or emptied by the perpetual insecurity.
Depression is a different way of conceptualizing a refusal to reiterate the requisite process of ceaseless self-destruction. It is a way of expressing a refusal of the freedom to fail by making a particular failure permanent. Depression is a kind of resistance that manifests as self-destruction, since the self has become caught up in the thing we long to resist in our souls.