You are here

Paranoia and Contentment

A Personal Essay on Western Thought
John C. Hampsey

BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813922942 · $36.50 · Jan 2005
BUY Paper · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813925097 · $19.50 · Dec 2005

A hybrid in both content and style, Paranoia and Contentment is a bold and original investigation into Western intellectual history. John Hampsey approaches paranoia not as a clinical term for an irrational sense of persecution but from a uniquely positive perspective, as a cultural truth—a way of understanding the history of human thought and perhaps the best way to describe Being itself.

Hampsey turns first to the ancient Greeks to explore the origin of the concept of paranoia. "Paranoia"—literally "beside the mind"—was the Greeks’ primarily negative term for thinking outside the usual thought processes, or beyond reason. Working from this classical definition, Hampsey sees paranoia operating in two distinctly different ways. First there is the paranoic, his name for off-track thinking that is expansive, creative, even visionary. This is opposed to the paranoidic, which is motivated by fear, delusion, and a pursuit of contentment so obsessive that it has crippled human imagination and diminished tolerance of those who are perceived to threaten that contentment. The distinction is especially significant because the paranoidic so dominates Western thought and culture that paranoic thinking has become nearly lost to us.

Hampsey seeks to recover this expansive mode of thought by tracing an arc of paranoic moments in Western culture. Abraham, Jesus, Socrates, Hypatia, Joan of Arc, Goethe, Blake, Kierkegaard, Schreber—these are only a few among the many figures whom the author examines in order to isolate moments in Western intellectual history when paranoic vision temporarily breaks through the barriers of paranoidic fear. The book’s analyses and inquiries are joined by anecdotal interludes in which Hampsey applies the conflicting concepts of paranoic and paranoidic to revealing moments in his own life. As humanly engaging as it is erudite, Paranoia and Contentment seeks to reclaim paranoic thinking as a crucial part of our consciousness and an indispensable component to understanding our cultural history.


Paranoia and Contentment is a sharply reasoned, humane,surprising, and intellectually bold meditation on paranoicvision. Part scholarship, part personal essay, thisbeautifully written book turns upside-down our standardthinking about paranoia, creativity, imagination, and what it is to be wholly human.

Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried

Paranoia and Contentment is a fascinating exercise in redefining 'paranoia' and coining the term 'paranoidic,' thereby positing new criteria for analyzing our life and society today.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

An extraordinarily original rumination on the human condition, ranging across a broad field of philosophical thought and Western literature.... Hampsey's goal is to startle us into reconsidering our conventional ways of thinking, and I believe he has achieved that goal admirably.... Eminently readable, often eloquent.

Howard Zinn, Professor Emeritus, Boston University, author of A People's History of the United States

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books