Adam Phillips


British Psychotherapist and Essayist

Author Quotes

Everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.

It is difficult to enjoy people for whom we have waited too long. And in this familiar situation, which evokes such intensities of feeling, we wait and we try to do something other than waiting, and we often get bored - the boredom of protest that is always a screen for rage.

Self-criticism is nothing if it is not the defining, and usually the over-defining, of the limits of being. But, ironically, if that?s the right word, the limits of being are announced and enforced before so-called being has had much of a chance to speak for itself.

Tragic heroes always under-interpret, are always emperors of one idea... The first quarto of Hamlet has, ?Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,? while the second quarto has, ?Thus conscience does make cowards.? If conscience makes cowards of us all, then we are all in the same boat; this is just the way it is. If conscience simply makes cowards we can more easily wonder what else it might be able to make. Either way,and they are clearly different, conscience makes something of us; it is a maker, if not of selves, then of something about selves. It is an internal artist, of a kind? The superego? casts us as certain kinds of character: it, as it were, tells us who we really are. It is an essentialist: it claims to know us in a way that no one else, including ourselves, can ever do. And, like a mad god, it is omniscient: it behaves as if it can predict the future by claiming to know the consequences of our actions (when we know, in a more imaginative part of ourselves, that most actions are morally equivocal, and change over time in our estimation; no apparently self-destructive act is ever only self-destructive; no good is purely and simply that).

You can only understand anything that matters ? dreams, neurotic symptoms, literature ? by over-interpreting it; by seeing it from different aspects as the product of multiple impulses. Over-interpretation here means not settling for one interpretation, however apparently compelling it is. Indeed, the implication is ? and here is Freud?s ongoing suspicion, or ambivalence, about psychoanalysis ? that the more persuasive, the more compelling, the more authoritative, the interpretation is, the less credible it is, or should be. The interpretation might be the violent attempt to presume to set a limit where no limit can be set.

Everything depends on what we would rather do than change.

It is the link between satisfaction and redress--the idea that a satisfaction scene, whatever else it is, is a revenge tragedy--that I want to pursue; and the sense that we waylay our desire--make it literally unreal--with pictures of its satisfaction. Pornography, for example, can easily be used, among many other things, to pre-empt the elaboration of erotic fantasy; it can be, in Masud Kahn's words, 'the stealer of dreams'. To put it in old-fashioned Freudian language, fantasies of satisfaction are defenses against desiring, the attempt in fantasy to take the risk out of desire; or to put it in more Kleinian language, fantasies of satisfaction are attacks upon desire; they are, in fact, against desiring, both up against it and in opposition to it. Our fantasies of satisfaction are clues to our fears about desiring. Wishful fantasies are the original sins of omission.

Self-criticism, and the self as critical, are essential to our sense, our picture, of our so-called selves.

Tragic heroes are failed pragmatists. Their ends are unrealistic and their means are impractical.

You can?t have a desire without an inspiring sense of lack. What we do to our frustration to make it bearable ? evade it, void it, misrecognize it, displace it, hide it, project it, deny it, idealize it, and so on ? takes the sting out of its tail.

Falling in love, finding your passion, are attempts to locate, to picture, to represent what you unconsciously feel frustrated about, and by.

It is unrealistic to assume that if all goes well in a child's life, he or she will be happy. Happiness is not something one can ask of a child. Children suffer in a way that adults don't always realize under the pressure their parents put on them to be happy.

So there are three consecutive frustrations: the frustration of need, the frustration of fantasized satisfaction not working, and the frustration of satisfaction in the real world being at odds with the wished-for, fantasized satisfaction. Three frustrations, three disturbances, and two disillusionments. It is, what has been called in a different context, a cumulative trauma; the cumulative trauma of desire. And this is when it works.

Unkindness involves a failure of the imagination so acute that it threatens not just our happiness but our sanity. Caring

Finding hate-objects may be every bit as essential as finding love-objects, but if one can tolerate some of one's badness -- meaning recognize it as yours -- then one can take some fear out of the world.

Just as there are phantom limbs there are phantom histories, histories that are severed and discarded, but linger on as thwarted possibilities an compelling nostalgias.

So there is something perhaps more difficult to conceive of, sometimes born of resignation and sometimes not- a life in which not getting it is the point and not the problem; in which the project is to learn how not to ride the bicycle, how not to understand the poem. Or to put it the other way round, this would be a life in which getting it ? the will to get it, the ambition to get it ? was the problem; in which wanting to be an accomplice didn?t take precedence over making up one?s mind.

Wanting is what we do to survive, and we want only what isn?t there.

Frustration that is unrecognized, unrepresented, cannot be met or even acknowledged; addiction is always an addiction to frustration (addiction is unformulated frustration, frustration too simply met). What, then, is the relationship, the link, the bond, the affinity between frustration and satisfaction? How do we find ourselves fitting them together or joining them up? There may, for example, be something about frustration that makes it resistant to representation, as though our frustrations are the last thing on earth we want to know about.

Kindness consistently preoccupies us, and yet most of us are unable to live a life guided by it.

The big secret about Art is that no one wants it to be true.

We are continually, if unconsciously, mutilating and deforming our own character. Indeed, so unrelenting is this internal violence that we have no idea what we are like without it. We know virtually nothing about ourselves because we judge ourselves before we have a chance to see ourselves (as though in panic). Or, to put it differently, we can judge only what we recognize ourselves as able to judge. What can?t be judged can?t be seen. What happens to everything that is not subject to approval or disapproval, to everything that we have not been taught how to judge?? The judged self can only be judged but not known. [We] think that it is complicitous not to stand up to, not to contest, this internal tyranny by what is only one part ? a small but loud part ? of the self.

Greed is a way of avoiding making choices: if I have everything I don't have to choose what I want. And choosing what I want means giving up some pleasures for other pleasures.

Kindness?that is, the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself?has become a sign of weakness (except of course among saintly people, in whom it is a sign of their exceptionality).

The French psychoanalyst Lacan suggested that the Christian injunction ?love thy neighbor as thyself? must be ironic because people hate themselves.

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British Psychotherapist and Essayist