The intense life: a modern obsession

Living intensely is the latest ideal held up to humanity: a life that’s dazzling, electrifying, that harnesses the power of the Industrial Revolution. The major challenge we face today: escaping from this exhausting race while remaining intensely alive.

When confronted with the numbness that seems to characterize “bourgeois comfort,” the hero of our modern times emerges as a figure exuding youth and brilliance: a freethinker, a romantic, a revolutionary, a rock star, an athlete, a financial whiz, to whom ads promise an “intense experience” no matter what they’re selling: perfume, coffee, chocolate, even mineral water. And why not? Intensity is, after all, subjective, and has become the ultimate value in today’s world, where each person can choose their own path, as long as they follow this one ethical imperative: “Be yourself, but to the maximum.” A dull life means failure.

Nonetheless, this yearning for intensity negates itself: the more we pursue intense experiences, the more blunted our senses and the more novelty and stimulation we demand, right up until the moment when we’ve reached total burnout. There are some people who change their ways only to be tempted by a return toward an absolute kind of wisdom, transcendence, or religious salvation.

Between all-encompassing intensity and total wisdom, is there another possible path? Tristan Garcia explores the foundations of a society that has become obsessed with pleasure and performance, which can prove draining for both ecosystems and individuals. He rejects the choice that pits the sensation of living against abstract thought, advocating instead a balance between radiance and reflection. He invites each of us to define our own way forward, but leaves us hanging, just a little bit, when it comes to how to do so.

Learn more:

La Vie intense, une obsession moderne (The Intense Life: A Modern Obsession), by Tristan Garcia (Autrement, 2018, 1st ed., 2016).