I think my favourite line in Dad’s Army is when Corporal Jones says to Captain Mainwaring, ‘Permission to worry you, sir.’ No one needs to ask permission to worry me – it’s happening anyway – which is why I was intrigued by Francis O’Gorman’s new book Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History which I reviewed here. This book seems to be part of a growing field that might be called the cultural history of emotional states. The process of worrying perfectly suits the long essay form to which the book belongs, with its self-questing exploration of the mind’s idiosyncrasies. As in the best essays, O’Gorman’s riffing on a single topic becomes a way of exploring wider questions about life, the self and being human. ‘Worry’s favourite shape is a circle’, he writes.
Worries are also interesting because they are both real and fabricated. ‘It is … easy to forget that worries are imaginative creations, small epics of personal failure and anticipated catastrophe,’ writes Adam Phillips in an essay on the subject that O’Gorman doesn’t quote. ‘They are, that is to say, made up.’ Some of us just have worrisomeness in our bones. John Self reminded me of a brilliant line in Gordon Burns’s Best and Edwards in which he describes Bobby Charlton’s face as one ‘on which worry – more accurately worritability, the under-colour of worry – seems to have been permanently imprinted’.
Image: ‘No Worries – Dublin Street Art’, copyright William Murphy and available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/6672652597