"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Aphoristic Flirt Adam Phillips

If you randomly started reading Adam Phillips and knew nothing of his background, I have to think it would soon become apparent that he is a psychoanalyst, which conclusion you would arrive at--tentatively, of course--after seeing how his style is circuitous, diffuse, self-questioning, suggestive and assertive in about equal measure, and very reminiscent of the wide-ranging meanderings of the mind. If--apart from, perhaps, his study of D.W. Winnicott--you read virtually any of his many books, you will find that one way to characterize them is as collections of aphorisms surrounded by acres of prose. Because they bear remembering and quoting, I wanted to write some of them down here in no particular order. I gravitate towards the ones I think rich with theological promise as well as those of what seems to me acute clinical insight and applicability.

From On Flirtation: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life, a book written in part to offer "psychoanalysis with a light touch," to allow analyst and analysand--and general readers--to realize that analysis should be about pleasure and enjoying ourselves (with a reference to Nina Coltart's singular and splendid book Slouching Towards Bethlehem).

On Idolatry:

"It is one of the advantages of flirtation that it can protect us from idolatry....Flirtation keeps things in play."

"All idols, by disarming pertinent forms of criticism, distracted their worshippers from more problematic but interesting desires."

"Psychoanalysis has always been a religion in which you are not allowed to believe in God."
"Dreams are accidents of desire."

"It is a fundamentally useful Freudian insight that we are never coincident with--the same as--the images we have of ourselves."

For the "Theology of the Body" Crowd:

"We have made a fetish of sexual difference....Our categories are themselves ghosts or ghost-writers and not the reassuring commodities which we...pretend they are."

"There is an erotics of uncertainty so the fear of relinquishing the idea of difference may be the fear of the death of desire."

"Thinking of the sexes as making each other whole is grounds for murder."

"Our theoretical habits, like our erotic habits, are the revenge of the past upon the future."
On the Virtues and Nature of Forgetting:

"People come for psychoanalytic treatment because they are remembering in a way that does not free them to forget."

"It has been the value of forgetting that psychoanalysis after Freud has most often repressed."

"It is only when two people forget themselves in each other's presence that they can recognize each other."

On D.W. Winnicott, British Psychoanalysis, and Narrative Theology/Philosophy:

"In Winnicott's work, it could be argued, psychoanalysis was incorporated into a Christian empiricist tradition.....Psychoanalysis becomes a new theology of mothering."

"Freud...put the implied narratives of a life, sanctioned by a Christian cosmology, in question."

"A successful psychoanalysis...makes memory possible but with a specific end in view--the patient's recovery."

"The patient has to refuse himself the conventional satisfactions of narrative....Psychoanalysis enables the patient to tolerate anti-narrative."

"Psychoanalysis as a theory and a therapy unavoidably promotes and institutionalizes the idea of an exemplary life." 

"Psychoanalysis is a professionalized social practice." (Would Alasdair MacIntyre agree?)
"Psychoanalytic practice is always hearsay."

On Psychoanalytic Methods and Results:

"Free association itself is the psychic act of relinquishing, as far as possible, one's slavish devotion to internal censors."

Quoting Sandor Ferenczi, "'The patient is not cured by free-associating: he is cured when he can free associate'."

"The radical nature of Freud's project is clear if one imagines what it would be like to live in a world in which everyone was able--had the capacity--to free-associate, to say whatever happened to come into their mind at any given moment."

"If a person ends up speaking psychoanalysis then the treatment has failed and must be called indoctrination."

"Psychoanalysis has always been about what it means to get bogged down in traditions."

"Psychoanalysis has, fortunately, had all its boundaries blurred...and it has now spilled into all sorts of other areas--religion, history, philosophy, politics, anthropology among others--with which it has much in common."

"Guilt...is a fundamental obstacle to psychoanalytic cure; the patient desperately needs his symptoms as a punishment."

"In psychoanalytic treatment it takes two to make a life-story."

"It would be particularly interesting for those who love psychoanalysis to tell us their misgivings about it all." (This is something I shall certainly do at some point!)

"It is not clear why so many of our notions of accountability--and often intelligibility--depend so exclusively on a capacity for blame."

"In our repetitions we seem to be staying away from the future, keeping it at bay."

"The best and worst of psychoanalytic theory always verges on the mystical."

"A good life entails the tolerance and enjoyment of inner complexity....There is no final resolution here" (commenting on Christopher Bollas' Being a Character).

"Psychoanalysis does not have to be an omnivorous interpreting machine, or another colonial adventure. At its best, it is a way of keeping the questions of childhood alive."

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