The Life Unlived: Adam Phillips’s MISSING OUT Reviewed in The New Yorker (Feb. 25, 2013)

Self’s Pile of Stuff is such a mess!  None of her magazines are arranged in chronological order.  Anyhoo, today she is reading The New Yorker of Feb. 25, 2013, the Joan Acocella essay on Adam Phillips.

Phillips, according to Acocella, is “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer.” (How come self never heard of him before?  Clearly, there are large gaps in her reading, especially of contemporary British books).  The main idea of Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life seems to be this:  “Instead of feeling that we should have a better life, he says, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have.  Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness.  What makes us think that we could have been a contender?  Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible.  And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives . . . ”  In other words, “our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”

The first chapter is “On Frustration” :  “Frustration makes people real to us,” he says, “because, in our lives, they are usually the sources of it.  Indeed, frustration makes reality itself real to us.”

Chapter Two is “On Not Getting to It” :  Phillips maintains that “Perhaps understanding is one thing we can do with each other —  something peculiarly bewitching and entrancing — but also something that can be limiting, regressive . . .  The illusion of knowing another person creates the possibility, the freedom, of not knowing them; to be free, by not knowing them, to do something else with them” — free, that is to say, to “mistreat them.”

But, Acocella writes, “the error Phillips addresses most feelingly is our wish to be understood.  This, Phillips says, can be “our most violent form of nostalgia.”  It is “a revival of our wish, as infants, to have our mother arrive the instant we cry out from pain and hunger.”

Self, you must get this book!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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