Does psychoanalysis teach us that freedom and equality are impossible for human beings? We would all like to think of ourselves as freedom-loving, egalitarian and democratic. Yet Freud has taught us that everything we do and say is rich in ambiguity and ambivalence: we are riven by conflict and antagonism, within and without. But if is true that our inner lives are one unflagging drama of desire and dependence, of greed, rivalry and abjection, then how can we ever presume to know what might be good for someone else? With all his customary grace and deftness, the celebrated writer Adam Phillips explores these issues in a liberating collection of essays. He looks at such topics as our fantasies of freedom and the nature of inhibition, at free association and the social role of mockery; he examine too the lives and works of such diverse figures as Svengali and Christopher Isherwood, Bertrand Russell and Saul Bellow. Throughout, Adam Phillips demonstrates how psychoanalysis - as a treatment and an experience and a way of reading - can, like democracy, allow people to speak and be heard.
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Adam Phillips's Equals attempts to relocate psychoanalysis as a natural part--and even a necessary part--of an engaged and unregimented life. Phillips is a politically aware writer. He is not a "party man" in any sense. But he has notions about democracy that inform, not just his view of psychoanalytic practice, but also his ideas about human freedom and happiness. Phillips reminds us that people suffer, not because they are in conflict with themselves, but because they have suppressed a conflict by imposing an unconscious authoritarian order over their thoughts and feelings.
The aim of psychoanalysis is to recreate emotional fluency. (One assumes the job of politics is to deal with the fallout.) Like democracy, psychoanalysis should recognise and legitimate conflict which an authoritarian (superegoistic) order would suppress. Drawing parallels between the idea of free association in democracy, and the practice of free association in psychoanalysis, Phillips writes: "hearing all those voices… may itself be a kind of happiness". Phillips's arguments are meticulous, and sometimes fussy. The general reader will find some passages obscure, but there is never the sense that Phillips is being deliberately obscurantist. His compassion--as a writer, as an analyst, and as a literary critic--is admirable. A child psychotherapist by training, his essay "Childhood Again" brings his strongest qualities together--ideological nous, close argument and compassion--in an entirely successful and memorable synthesis. --Simon IngsReview:
"Brilliantly lucid; reading him on top form is like having bubbles of insight exploding inside one's head."
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