Adam PhillipsBecoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst

Yale University Press, 2014

by Tracy Morgan on July 28, 2014

Adam Phillips

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Psychoanalysis] For those who are savvy about all things psychoanalytic, be they analysts, analysands, or fellow travelers, the existence, presence, work, writing, and imprimatur of Adam Phillips is given long, as opposed to short, shrift. It is safe to say that his voice is singular in its mellifluousness and its range.

I first encountered his writing at one of my dearest friend’s, and any second now new NBiP host and psychoanalyst Anne Wennerstrand’s wedding. Her husband, (doyen of the world of choreography), Doug Elkins, insisted I read a snippet from Phillip’s book, On Monogamy, before they slipped on their rings.  This request placed the thinking of Phillips squarely into my casually bridesmaided lap. That Elkins, a dancer with what we then called “downtown” street credibility knew from Adam Phillips perhaps 15 years ago says something; and it says something about Phillips and his reach.

In Phillips’ most recent book, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (Yale UP, 2014), we encounter the biography of a man who thought the entire genre of biography was nothing but bunk.  And yet, in this biography of Freud we also encounter a writer who seeks to show respect for Freud’s dis-ease if not utter disrespect for the attempt to write the story of his life.  As such, the book illustrates Phillips’ clinical acumen as much as his mind, his writing mien, and the life of his subject.  Demonstrating great caution, going up to the lip of certain facts without speculating unduly, like a savvy but sensitive psychoanalyst, Phillips offers the world a book that, like a true tree of life, grows in many directions at once.  As no doubt it will be read by people unfamiliar with “the talking cure” it carries a heavy burden in a day and age that prefers writing/texting/emailing to talking a deux, forget entering into an analysis!

Embedded within the text we find a vast exploration of the difference between “telling one’s story” (on Oprah or in a blog as is de rigeur in the culture of confession du moment) and speaking in the analytic dyad.  Ultimately, as compared with what real truths might be uttered in a psychoanalysis, indeed the facts of biography look paltry.  And furthermore, as this is a book that plays hardball with commonplace conceptions of knowledge, data, and truth, as compared with the exploration of unruly desire and its vicissitudes, we find ourselves returned to Freud who told us that the truths we create for the public work well to hide the real thing, the kinds of archaic truths spoken solely within the confines of a psychoanalytic setting.

Phillips brings back the primacy of the sexual to Freud, and hence to psychoanalysis.  Bring on the alleluia chorus and enjoy the interview!!

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