Unforbidden Pleasures
Adam Phillips
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Conscience is the consequence of uncompleted revenge . . . Originally, there were other people we wanted to murder; but this was too dangerous so we murder ourselves thorough self-reproach, and we murder ourselves to punish ourselves for having such murderous thoughts.

  • The mind sets itself over against the other, judges it critically and, as it were, takes it as its object; that is to say, the superego treats the ego as though it were an object not a person.

  • The superego, the inner judge, radically misrecognizes the ego; it treats it, for example, as though it can't answer back, as though it doesn't have a mind of its own (it is noticeable how merciless and unsympathetic we are to ourselves in our self-criticism).

  • What would it be like to drop the idea that there is such a thing as forbidden knowledge . . . to know what it would be like to ban the incest taboo (imagine a society in which children in families, backed up by their parents, were encouraged to murder their mothers and marry their fathers, or murder their fathers and marry their mothers).

  • Obedience . . . is the mother of tragedy; if obedience is what we need - - - at least in its absolutist forms, and you can't be a bit obedient, any more than you can be a bit pregnant - - - then tragedy is what we are going to get.

  • Tragic heroes have an absolute, unarguable obedience to their own beliefs. All tragedies are tragedies of obedience.

  • The perennial question of whether it would have been better not to have been born at least lets us wonder about the difference between the raw and the cooked, the material and what we make of it.

  • We may live in the aftermath of the myth of the Fall, and the even longer aftermath of the myth of Oedipus, but the first traffic lights were invented in the United States after the First World War.

  • Familiar forms of cooperation gave way to a new technologically implemented set of rules. People's practical judgement was delegated to a red light. They had known when to stop, but now they were being told when to stop.

  • Nietzsche . . . invented the day of an ultimate forgetting, the day when God forgot Himself.

  • In the history of forgetting of names this was one day, Nietzsche believed, that should stand out. Indeed, on the day that God, the one Judeo-Christian God forgot Himself, all the other gods died - - - of laughter.

  • One of the ways we bear the unknownness of the future is to treat it as thought it was, in fact, the past; and as though the past was something we did know about.

  • Freud would formalize this idea in his concept of transference; we invent new people on the basis of past familial relationships: as if we really knew these people and could use that knowledge as a reliable guide.
This stuff is rich, so rich that I have been wrangling with myself for weeks as to how to get it down on the page. I concluded it was impossible, because Phillips won't let it be. At least not for me.

Thus we have a 198 page book that will not permit us to vet it. So: find here thirteen quotes offered up whole-hog. With this, perhaps you'll get some idea of what this guy is about.

It's a brilliant study of how people react to each other, and to their gods, and to themselves. It pulls in the great writers - - - Freud, Wilde, Nietzsche, the Ancients, Bersani, Beckett, Jung, Foucault, Berlin - - - and helps to makes sense of what they thought they were telling us. With elegant phrasing, Phillips shapes their words so that they may come alive for the rest of us.

The title? Unforbidden pleasures? We all know about the Forbidden, no? For some of us, the pursuit of such can take us through our whole lives. But the others? The Unforbidden?

We don't usually bother about them, but Phillips sees these as what have set the form of English psychoanalytics apart from the rest of the world of shrinkery. "When you put together the profoundly innocent child of a Protestant British romanticism with the infantile sexuality of the Freudian child you get the Middle or Independent Group in British psychoanalysis."

It is the child of Wordsworth or Coleridge or Blake, he points out: "notably and naturally kind, sympathetic and full of fellow-feeling,"

    and he has a virtually instinctive capacity and need to forget himself, to adsorb himself in things (and people ) other than himself. Given the chance he loses himself in nature, in books, in games. He or she is by nature both solitary and sociable and so hates . . . tyranny, submission, and injustice.

See what happens? I want to tell you about some of the logic and fire of Unforbidden Pleasures and so what I do is go off the track into what I think is going on here, and because Phillips says it so much better than I, I end up giving up my reviewer role, becoming nothing more than a copying machine.

Which (you know me, no?) irritates me beyond belief.

The hell with it. If you are at all interested in the intricate workings of your mind, and Hamlet's, and Phillip's, and Oedipus', and the divine him- or her-self, get Unforbidden Pleasures and forget what I may say, think, or do here.

For as far as I'm concerned, now that I have gotten you this far, I can tell you for sure that when I have my next nervous breakdown, I'm heading over to York (York! Not New York, god knows; and god knows where this York is) to see if this guy can put me back together again, get me back to those ever-so-easy-to-lose Unforbidden Pleasures, the ones that always used to give us such a kick before we went balmy.***

--- Pamela Wylie

§   §   §

***If you want to get a gander at Adam Phillips himself - - -
outside of the picture above - - -
you might choose to avoid looking for him at Google Images.
The rather staid photographs of our unshaven author are
thoroughly jumbled together with what, in the gay world,
are known as "hunks."
Evidently Adam is a popular nickname for these fellows who
spend much of their day lolly-gagging about in their briefs,
showing off their various pouches and pooches and abs.
If nothing else, this collection of
unintended cohorts is, as often happens, a superbly ironical
mix of pleasure common and pleasure
uncommon, as gathered here for your pleasure.
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