The strikingly eloquent psychoanalyst Adam Phillips will join LIVE for the second time tonight. His first appearance on our stage was in 2007, when he spoke with director Paul Holdengraber about — among other things — psychotherapy, literature, and how both intersect with human behavior. Here are several highlights from their conversation to acquaint you with Phillips’ unique philosophy:
On the title of his book, “Side Effects”:
"Well, one of the things that interested me about psychoanalysis originally was that it wasn’t an instrumental cure. That is to say, people would go to psychoanalysis with a specific located problem. What would emerge in the process of the therapy would be all sorts of often other things that also people would sometimes not get relief for the symptom they came for, but would still find the conversation interesting, useful. So side effects seem to me—and I say this in the preface—were there to be a drug that somebody marketed and said the value of this drug is its unexpected side effects, you would think this is preposterous. And that is exactly what psychoanalysis is at its best, and that was the point of the title.”
On why the act of tickling is important:
“One is it’s intensely pleasurable and painful at the same time. And can be abusive. So it’s on a real threshold. It’s also something that is blurred in childhood as something children crave and love and like and are frightened of, so it’s a really obvious — in a way — everyday initiation into the dangers of pleasure. And the question about whether one can contain excitement.”
]On writing as divergent expression from everyday life:
“I very much like the idea of people like Freud in a way, or Kafka, or Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams — people who did ordinary, regular jobs, and led very ordinary so-called bourgeois lives but then would write these extraordinary things. And these people strike me from reading biographies of them as, being in the best sense, nice ordinary people but who when they wrote could be, could perform a version of themselves that was by definition not something they would in that sense live or could only be lived as writing. And that’s interesting, I think.”
On Phillips’ fascination with the essay form:
"I think the literary analogy for a psychoanalytic session is more of an essay than anything else. I mean, they’re not like novels, they’re not like epic poems, they’re not like lyric poems, they’re not like plays, they’re a bit like bits of dialogue of plays, but they do seem to me to be like essays. As in nineteenth-century essays because in that situation or in that form there is the opportunity to digress, to change the subject, to be incoherent, to come to conclusions that are then overcome and surpassed and so on."
On why good communication involves forgetting:
"It’s like the way in which you know you’ve had a good conversation because you’ve forgotten the fact that you’re having a conversation, that you’re not acutely self-conscious of the fact that you’re speaking. So it’s like the kind of talk in which you forget yourself and can speak, because the most interesting words come out of the forgetting of self. But I also think there’s something important about being able to forget what people say. Because only if you forget it has it gone inside your body. If you remember it, I think it’s very available, and there’s no use in that."