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Side Effects – Adam Phillips

November 18, 2016

seI was drawn to this brook by a remark in a footnote of another book. Although I was disappointed and, to a degree bored, I have found several observations that have helped me in my work of spiritual direction.

Phillips implies that revelations are often hidden in asides. These essays celebrate the tangential; they are about what happens when you choose roads less travelled, with no idea where they might lead or whether they will end – like psychoanalysis.

Phillips is fascinated by endings. In an essay devoted to the question of how an analyst and a patient decide when their relationship is over, he observes that there is no such thing as an ending, only an abandonment.

In other contexts too, he is not comfortable about conclusiveness.

He observes that psychoanalysis does not cure people but shows them what is incurable; the understanding of psychoanalysis involves a continual resistance to it; what happens in therapy has more to do with the therapist’s past than the patient’s.


‘by attending to the patient’s side effects, what falls out of his pockets once he starts speaking’.

‘Freud, let us say by way of a beginning, had a genius for describing the impossibility of our lives. He master-minded a story about how and why we are not the masters of what we have been taught to call our minds.’

It is the child who is too fearful to make a nuisance of himself that is the child we should be really worried about’

[on dream work] a ‘species of travel writing.’

“irony is the religion of the incestuously minded”

“having the last word is never going to be the last word”

“what do we want to talk about when we talk about dreams?”

“what we most want is to want”.

‘A perverse act, one could say, is one in which nothing must be discovered.”

compulsion is the site of a forgetting

‘remembering the past stops you living in the past’.

Leo Bersani remarked in his great essay Is the Rectum a Grave that the big secret about sex was that most people don’t like it The big secret- about sex isn’t quite that most people don’t like it, it’- that most people don’t like it because they are with people they are either not excited by or are too excited by. And if they are with people they are not sufficiently excitedly, Freud would say, it is because they are terrified by their own desire; As budding Oedipuses their “desire is either incestuous or it is nothing. Realdesire is always a reminder of something at once overwhelming and forbidden. When it comes to the choice of sexual partner, better safe than sorry: from the ego’s point of view, it’s always better not to get too excited.

The analyst can never predict the effect that his words will have on the so-called patient, and vice versa.

Lacan …..said that if the analyst has been properly analysed, he is more not less likely to fall in love with the patient.

That our wishes, are unmarried to the world. And, second, that many people feel unusually free in the absence of the object — providing it is known to be somewhere present — and get their most intensely exciting sexual pleasure in that solitary experience of desiring in fantasy… Anna Freud once said, in your dreams you can have your eggs cooked the way you want them, but you can’t eat them. The implication is clear: magic is satisfying but reality is nourishing.

To begin with, whatever the actual arrangements, the family from the child’s point of view is just the way the world is. The child in the family is, in this sense, like Sartre’s rebel, the person who keeps the world the same so he can go on rebelling against it

Fay Weldon once said, you can believe you are a nice person; after you have children you understand how wars start, All critiques of the family that are not simply or solely grievances against one’s own are grand narratives about possibilities for satisfac­tion.

There is the imperial (and imperious) self who colonizes the world, or replaces the world with a world of his own: the artist who makes the world in his own image. And then there is the self as midwife, creating the optimal conditions for something other than the self to come to life; the artist as servant of a process. For the imperial self, the world needs to be improved. For the midwife self, the world needs to be seen as it is.

The dreamer is educable exclusively on his own terms which is why the, pupil always chooses the teacher; and a national curriculum creates delinquency).

against what Freud called resistance (and what Lenin and Marx would call the sheer force of bourgeois ideology). Psychoanaly­sis, in its very belief in therapeutic interventions, acknowledges what so-called education finds itself up against: the idols wor­shipped in secret have, as it were, the last laugh.

It is the child who can’t be difficult, the child who is too fearful to make a nuisance of himself, that is the child we should be really worried about. The child who is a bit of a nuisance wants more life, wants the better life that can include whatever his development is going to be. The child who is no trouble may have given up hope.

Malcolm Gladwell…… ‘Our unconscious reactions,’ he writes, come out of a locked room, and we can’t look inside that room. But with experience we become expert at using our behaviour and our training to interpret — and decode — what lies behind our snap judgements and first impressions.

Because time is always running out for pragmatists they are always a bit frantic; they fear doing things called wasting their lives or not using their time well (or properly). For the romantic time is for whatever happens to happen in it It-is a medium not an instrument. For them the idea of using their time makes about as much sense as the idea of using their love or of using their capacity for friendship.

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