Flirting with Freud
On Flirtation by Adam Phillips, Faber and Faber, pp. 226
Terrors And Experts by Adam Phillips, Faber and Faber, pp. 110
ADAM PHILLIPS IS A child psychoanalyst who has developed a considerable reputation as a writer. His second collection of essays on psychoanalytic topics, On Flirtation, originally appeared in 1994 and has now been re-issued as a paperback. It is joined by a new, extremely slim volume, Terrors and Experts, in which a number of articles written for different occasions have been re-titled and presented as though they formed a single sequential book. In both books Phillips seeks to carry forward his attempt to rescue Freud from his dogmatic scientism and to construct a postmodernist version of psychoanalysis in which it is seen as a way of constructing ‘narratives’ about people’s inner lives. Psychoanalysis, he writes in Terrors and Experts, ‘tells persuasive stories about where misery comes from’.
As these two books show, Phillips is capable of writing not only elegantly but also well. At one point in his review of Philip Roth’s Patrimony he relates the episode where the novelist’s dying father ‘beshats himself’ in his hospital bed and is deeply embarrassed. When Phillips goes on to observe that ‘We are humiliated not by our acts but by our ideals’ his words are aphoristic in the best sense of the word: ordinary language is used with economy in order to express a truth in a manner which almost inevitably provokes further thought. (If we are indeed humiliated by our ideals, in how many cases are we secretly drawn to ideals partly because they offer us a high-minded way of humiliating others?)