Psychoanalysis works by attending to the patient's side effects, "what falls out of his pockets once he starts speaking." Undergoing psychoanalytic therapy is always a leap into the dark--like dedicating our hearts and intellect to a powerful work of literature, it's impossible to know beforehand its ultimate effect and consequences. One must remain open to where the "side effects" will lead.
Erudite, eloquent, and enthrallingly observant, Adam Phillips is one of the world's most respected psychoanalysts and a boldly original writer and thinker--and the ideal guide to exploring the provocative connections between psychoanalytic treatment and enduring, transformative literature. His fascinating and thoughtful Side Effects offers a valuable intellectual blueprint for the construction of a life beholden to no ideology other than the fulfillment of personal promise.
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April 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Side Effects by Adam Phillips
The Master-Mind Lectures
There are many things the good life is not. But no one thing it is bound to be. John Gray, Two Faces of Liberalism
There is a nasty, perhaps Freudian, moment in Ford Madox Ford's novel of 1924, Some Do Not, in which something suddenly occurs to the hero, Tietjens, in the middle of a conversation: 'Suddenly he thought that he didn't know for certain that he was the father of his child, and he groaned . . .' Tietjens, Ford continues, 'proved his reputation for sanity' by carrying on the conversation he is ostensively having, but without reference to his daunting thought. As though sanity for this Englishman is about being apparently undisturbed by one's most disturbing thoughts. It is exactly and exactingly about what one is able not to say. Keeping to the topic, keeping the conversation going is the kind of sanity for which one could have a reputation. 'But it gave him a nasty turn,' Ford writes: 'He hadn't been able to pigeon-hole and padlock his disagreeable reflections. He had been as good as talking to himself.'
This is perhaps a Freudian moment not because Ford was in any sense a Freudian--whatever that is; and, as we shall see, that is something that Freud himself made it impossible for anyone to be. But rather because Freud gave us a language to redescribe these moments of stray thought, these spots of distraught time, in which we are unable to 'pigeon-hole and padlock' our more disagreeable reflections; in which, in Ford's extraordinary phrase, we are as good as talking to ourselves because, for some reason, we can't speak these thoughts to others. And also because, as Ford intimates, the 'we' is ambiguous; at such moments I am being addressed, but who is addressing me? I am talking to myself, but who exactly is doing the talking, the strangely silent talking we call thinking; and who, perhaps more perplexingly, is the listener when we are talking to ourselves? And it is paternity, as it happens, that is at issue. Tietjens may not be the father of his son, but is he the father of his own thoughts? Something that belongs to you, something as intimate as one's own thoughts, could be illegitimate; could come from someone or somewhere else. A lot turns on these nasty turns we have.
But Freud didn't merely draw our attention to such nasty moments, or redescribe the provenance of our more nomadic thoughts. He invented a therapeutic method that encouraged, that traded in such nasty turns. And the aim of this method--called, as everyone now knows, free association--is that people should be able to have their disagreeable reflections without feeling the need to pigeon-hole or padlock them. The people Freud saw were suffering, in his view, not only from the insistent, inherited forms of anguish that everyone is prone to, but also from their forms of classification, and the confinement of their narrow-mindedness. What do we imagine these disagreeable reflections--these unflattering mirrors that our thoughts can provide--are like? What is it that is being clich�d and criminalized (pigeon-holed and padlocked), and why is this what we are inclined to do with the thoughts we have but can't agree with? Tietjens didn't know for certain that he was the father of his child, and he didn't know for certain what to do about this horrible thought. So he carried on talking about the thing he was supposed to be talking about, but 'he had been as good as talking to himself '. Freud says that these moments of not knowing for certain--these nasty turns that we are prone to--are akin to secular epiphanies. It is when our thoughts throw us, when, however fleetingly, we have lost the plot--when, in short, we can bear to lose our reputations for sanity--that we begin to get some news. But to hear the news we need to do what Tietjens would never do: we have to tell our nasty turns to another person: we have to fall through the holes in the conversation when and if they occur. In the therapeutic conversation that Freud invented, and called psychoanalysis, the so-called patient has to be as good as talking to himself, but aloud, in the presence of another person. He is persuaded to make known the interruptions and disruptions he is heir to. What used to be called, in the secular and sacred traditions that Freud was heir to, self-examination, self-questioning, self-doubt could now be called making a Freudian slip. And being able to make something of that particular making that happens in spite of ourselves, inadvertently.
That we think of ourselves as making rather than having Freudian slips is something I shall come back to. Where once, in the service of self-knowledge or religious instruction or medical examination, questions were asked of the self, now, in psychoanalysis, all that was asked of the patient was that he should, in so far as he was able, say whatever came into his head. He is invited to speak as freely as possible; as though reporting back from somewhere that he usually calls himself. 'The treatment is begun,' Freud writes in his 'Two Encyclopaedia Articles', by the patient being required to put himself in the position of an attentive and dispassionate self-observer, merely to read off all the time the surface of his consciousness, and on the one hand to make a duty of the most complete honesty while on the other hand not to hold back any idea from communication, even if (1) he feels that it is too disagreeable or if (2) he judges that it is nonsensical or (3) too unimportant or (4) irrelevant to what is being looked for. It is uniformly found that precisely those ideas which provoke these last-mentioned reactions are of particular value in discovering the forgotten material.
The foregoing is excerpted from Side Effects by Adam Phillips. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022