The fatigue variant

Esprit 6/2021

‘Esprit’ addresses the growing coronavirus-provoked ‘epidemic of fatigue’, including: the underestimated mental health impacts on society at large, and youth in particular; a historical overview of exhaustion; and lessons for post-COVID economic recovery drawn from post-war France.

Jonathan Chalier and Alain Ehrenberg frame Esprit’s ‘epidemic of fatigue’ within key mental health factors that appear to be following in the wake of the pandemic; simple cause and effect does not adequately explain what we are experiencing. Multiple factors – medical, social and work-related – affect sectors of society in different ways, but fatigue is common across the board. According to Chalier and Ehrenberg, governments are keen to avoid a ‘mental health third wave’, but ‘mass individualism’ is failing to equip individuals and society as a whole with the means to cope with mental overload, burnout and loss of control.

Youth, mental health and social well-being

The pandemic’s successive effects of ‘bewilderment, … a distorted sense of time, space and other people, …work and physical movement’ concern co-authors Marie Jauffret-Roustide, Pierre-Julien Coulaud, Julie Jesson, Estelle Filipe, Naseeb Bolduc and Rod Knight. In their opinion, young adults have borne the brunt of recent social ills and their medical and mental health should be treated as an emergency. Quantitative ‘pandemic fatigue’ research data suggest that young people are often forgotten in public health response strategies.

A history of fatigue and the conquest of the mind

Interviewed by Esprit, historian Georges Vigarello reviews the concept of fatigue from the Middle Ages, via the industrial revolution and modern era, to the current pandemic. Quoting Christine de Pizan, Descartes, Diderot and Zola among others, Vigarello explains how everyday human experiences and behaviours have evolved with successive technological developments. External circumstances affect and modify changing notions of selfhood and individuality: the ‘current quest for (individual) wellbeing’ and ‘the feeling that’ we have ‘increasingly flexible, open and limitless control of our own interior world’ conflict with the outside world, particularly in the current pandemic, says Vigarello. We ‘find ourselves confronting increasingly “demanding machines” that are overwhelming,’ which the historian thinks can only be overcome by individual awareness and self-management, facilitating better interpersonal relations.

Are happy days here again?

France’s post-war National Resistance Council produced a programme of economic and institutional renewal known as Les jours heureux (happy days); as we begin to emerge from COVID-19’s shockwave, Olivier Bos argues that policymakers should reinforce the public realm, reduce wealth inequalities and search for solutions to the ongoing environmental crisis.

Bos proposes the ‘unilateral implementation of a carbon tax ahead of the European Commission’s permanently delayed Green Deal,’ pointing out that we ‘have the opportunity to put in place a new tax policy, the foundation of a more reasoned form of capitalism’ redolent of ‘the spirit and wisdom of the NRC programme.’ A return to happy days will require ‘intellectual creativity and cooperation between nations,’ asserts Bos.


This article is part of the 11/2021 Eurozine review published in cooperation with CAIRN International Edition, translated and edited by Cadenza Academic Translations.

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Published 7 July 2021
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

© Eurozine



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