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Adam Phillips, 15 May 1980

... In the night house no one has the knack of keeping things quiet; uncoloured walls fumble, furniture is posed in the nothing-snow, familiar and unreachable, the depletion of lamps, the rage of book-shelves, bits chatter under- foot in the carpet; I interrupt walking through a primitive community, I muffle myself for a drink ...

What if Freud didn’t care?

Adam Phillips, 14 May 1992

The Secret Ring: Freud’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis 
by Phyllis Grosskurth.
Cape, 245 pp., £18, November 1991, 0 224 03227 5
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... Auden once suggested that a literary critic should declare his ‘dream of Eden’ because ‘honesty demands that he describes it to his readers, so that they may be in a position to judge his judgments.’ Even though psychoanalysis ironises dreams of Eden – in psychoanalytic theory paradise is only for the losers – it would be useful for psychoanalysts to say something about these things, about the kind of world they would prefer to live in, and why they think psychoanalysis is a good way of both spending one’s time and contributing to this Eden ...

In Praise of Difficult Children

Adam Phillips, 12 February 2009

... When you play​ truant you have a better time. But how do you know what a better time is, or how do you learn what a better time is? You become aware, in adolescence and in a new way, that there are many kinds of good time to be had, and that they are often in conflict with each other. When you betray yourself, when you let yourself down, you have misrecognised what your idea of a good time is; or, by implication, more fully realised what your idea of a good time might really be ...

Judas’ Gift

Adam Phillips: In Praise of Betrayal, 5 January 2012

... In 1965-66 the erstwhile folk singer Bob Dylan released a great trilogy of albums, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, and set off on a world tour that would change popular music. At a now famous concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, Dylan was playing his new electric and electrifying music when a disaffected folkie in the audience shouted ‘Judas ...

On the Run

Adam Phillips: John Lanchester, 2 March 2000

Mr Phillips 
by John Lanchester.
Faber, 247 pp., £16.99, January 2000, 9780571201617
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... the subjects of novels a certain gravity (if not grace) is conferred on them. But even though Mr Phillips is really a book about its title – and about what names entitle people to – the title has to be read in the light of the book’s epigraph. Taken from Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, it plays off, as epigraphs must, the title of the novel against ...

The Experts

Adam Phillips, 22 December 1994

... After all, one can only say something if one has learned to talk. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations Children unavoidably treat their parents as though they were experts on life. They, and other adults, are the people from whom the child learns what is necessary. But the extent to which children make demands on adults which the adults don’t know what to do with is not sufficiently remarked on ...

Doing Heads

Adam Phillips, 31 October 1996

by Patrick McGrath.
Viking, 250 pp., £16, August 1996, 0 670 87001 3
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... In their Introduction to the Picador Book of the New Gothic, Patrick McGrath and Bradford Morrow proposed a familiar kind of progress myth to help us find our way around the New Gothic; the old, or rather, original Gothic being by definition a genre in which the protagonists lost their way in horror or deranged bewilderment. ‘Gothic fiction,’ they wrote, in its earliest days, was known by the props and settings it employed, by its furniture ...

Talking about what it feels like is as real as it gets

Adam Phillips: Whose Church?, 24 January 2013

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 224 pp., £12.99, September 2012, 978 0 571 22521 7
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Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England 
by Roger Scruton.
Atlantic, 199 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 1 84887 198 4
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... No one can write about religion now without having in mind the new mockery that accompanies the new atheism. The new atheism’s ‘smug emissaries’ – as the blurb of Francis Spufford’s engaging new book calls them, meaning above all Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – believe in spite of all evidence that eventually the religious will see sense ...

The Magical Act of a Desperate Person

Adam Phillips: Tantrums, 7 March 2013

... No one recovers from the sadomasochism of their childhood. We may not want to think of the relations between parents and children as power relations: indeed it may sound like a perversion of parenting to do so. And we don’t want to think of parents and children being in any way sexually gratified by their status in relation to each other. But, to put it as cutely as possible, feeling big always depends on someone else being made to feel small ...


Adam Phillips, 9 March 1995

Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond 
by Nancy Chodorow.
Free Association, 132 pp., £8.95, July 1994, 1 85343 380 2
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... Most psychoanalytic literature is a contemporary version of the etiquette book; improving our internal manners, advising us on our best sexual behaviour (usually called maturity, or mental health or a decentred self). It is indeed, dismaying how quickly psychoanalysis has become the science of the sensible passions; as though its aim was to make people more intelligible to themselves rather than to realise how strange they are ...

Rebecca, take off your gown

Adam Phillips, 8 May 1986

Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews 
by Sander Gilman.
Johns Hopkins, 461 pp., £25.10, March 1986, 0 8018 3276 4
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... What have I in common with Jews?’ Kafka asked in his diary in 1913: ‘I have almost nothing in common with myself.’ By 1945, European Jews had a catastrophic history in common. ‘Jews are people who are not what anti-semites say they are,’ Philip Roth once wrote, but it is Gilman’s contention in this book that the Jews have tried to become indistinguishable from their enemies: that in the process of assimilation they have had to internalise the anti-semitism of their host nations ...

Desired Desire

Adam Phillips: Sándor Márai and the myth of redemptive love, 21 October 2004

Conversations in Bolzano 
by Sándor Márai, translated by George Szirtes.
Viking, 294 pp., £14.99, November 2004, 0 670 91534 3
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... The first English translation of a novel by Sándor Márai, Embers, came out in 2001. It had been published in Hungary in 1942, but next to nothing was known in the West about its author: the publisher’s blurb said that he had been born in Kassa in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1900 and was one of the leading ‘literary’ novelists of the 1930s in Hungary; and that, ‘profoundly anti-Fascist, he survived the Second World War, but persecution by the Communists drove him from the country in 1948 ...

How to be your father’s mother

Adam Phillips, 12 September 1991

Patrimony: A True Story 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 238 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 671 70375 7
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... A crucial incident in Patrimony comes when Roth’s aged and ill father, Herman, ‘beshats himself’, as he puts it:   ‘Don’t tell the children,’ he said, looking up at me from the bed with his one sighted eye.   ‘I won’t tell anyone,’ I said. ‘I’ll say you’re taking a rest.’   ‘Don’t tell Claire.’   ‘Nobody,’ I said ...

Freud and his Mother

Adam Phillips, 31 March 1988

The Riddle of Freud: Jewish Influences on his Theory of Female Sexuality 
by Estelle Roith.
Tavistock, 199 pp., £25, September 1987, 0 422 61380 0
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... Psychoanalysis is a conversation that enables people to understand what stops them having the kinds of conversation they want. But as the unconscious and sexuality have gradually been replaced by developmental theory and normative standards of emotional health, the conversation has become predictable, when people’s lives, of course, are not. As psychoanalysis has become one of the helping professions, it has lost some of its original vitality ...

Thwarted Closeness

Adam Phillips: Diane Arbus, 26 January 2006

... If it is too often said about Diane Arbus that she photographs freaks, it does at least suggest that we know what normal people are like, what people look like when they are not odd. It is reassuring to be reminded that we know a freak when we see one. There are, of course, points of view, angles from which we can all look like freaks to ourselves; and Arbus is unusually eloquent about this and about the way the camera can pick up the unwanted perspective ...

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