23rd February 2013
Everywhere you go in a certain segment of bourgeois America you see men and women dressed in childish togs trooping off to yoga class or heading to the gym for aerobics or jogging along—six, seven, eight miles, often at a toddler’s pace—in the heat, dust, and traffic of the late afternoon. Then a shower, a change of clothes, and off to the health-food store before it closes to get the right supplements and a quart of blueberries shipped up specially—it’s off season—from Colombia or Peru.
Why all the fuss? Why all the sweat and bother? To feel good, of course. To stay alive, naturally. What other reason could there be?
But the intensity of pursuit makes one pause and speculate a bit. What is this all about, this amazing attentiveness to health? There is a quasi-heroic dedication to all this conscientiousness about food, a saint’s rigorous commitment to the demands of exercise. And the devotees think about their health all the time. Is man the rational animal? More and more what he thinks about—if he is middle class; if he has been to college; if he has read the right books—is how to go on living. He concocts strategies ostensibly for the prolongation of a healthy life.
But on some level one senses—let speculation take full charge here—that what the man or woman oriented to health most wants to do is to live forever. In one of Tom Wolfe’s novels there is a young man perpetually deep in his computer. He wears titanium-framed glasses and a look of enduring intensity. His name is Wismer Stroock. “The Wiz,” says Wolfe, “was only thirty-two, but he had a bony neck and a bony jaw and sunken cheeks and cadaverous cheekbones from getting up every morning, every morning, before dawn and running six miles through the streets of a Dunwoody subdivision called Quail Ridge.” He drinks bottled water and eats purified foods of all descriptions. He is devoted to the purging of the body. He is very pale. He is a young man, Wolfe suggests, not unrepresentative of many in his generation. On some deep level he has decided that it is his goal to live forever. He is never going to die.