|Jung in a dream world on the left, and Freud with one of the cigars that finally killed him from the right|
After reading Jung’s autobiography, Britain’s Adam Phillips switched his career dreams from ornithology and literature to psychoanalysis, which he calls “practical poetry.” Although Jungian-trained, Phillips has survived the calumny of being pegged as a Freud lover since 2003 for his outspoken defense of Freud’s actual propositions, which Phillips reviewed thoroughly while editing new Freud translations for the Penguin Modern Classics series. He seems compelled to crack open every culturally normative chestnut for a deeper, more authentic understanding of the original meaning behind things, and has an illuminating way of turning a quotable phrase. Consider, for example, his notion that dream therapy is like travel writing for the subsconscious.
He's earned that right, however lax his approach may seem, because this unorthodox non-regimen works. As of 2013, Phillips has published 17 books, edited 7 books, co-authored 3 books, and also contributes regularly to The London Review of Books, The New York Times, and The Threepenny Review. Phillips has served as a children’s shrink since 1990, and his writing evinces total ease and lucidity, weaving effortlessly through metaphors, stories, and formal literary references that may tap King Lear, Cinderella, and basically the entire Western canon of literature.
|Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, the poster boy for psychoanalysis, in their respective sessions in Annie Hall (1977)|
Going Sane (2005), Phillips critiques a widespread tendency to romanticize or even glamorize insanity at the expense of sanity. Sanity is sidelined because it’s the bland, nebulous standard. It’s not sexy. Irrationality and intemperate behavior, after all, has delivered the prime stuff of literature for centuries. Medieval morality plays dragged their viewers through Hell, and they loved it, cheering on the perversions and the Devil with impunity—a necessary antidote to enforced churchiness. But Phillips’ point is that sanity just doesn’t hold its ground against the multifarious dimensions of dementia. Consider Dante’s "Paradiso" in the Divina Commedia, probably the least visited set of cantos—merely a realm of light, eternal love, and divine presence, populated by floating theologians and virgins. Compared to all the blood, sweat and fears of the "Inferno," Paradise is a huge yawnnnnn. Seriously, what do you prefer to sink your readerly teeth into, Anne Sexton or Rod McKuen?
Phillip’s main tool is his ostensibly reversing logic, which packs a liberating punch because it forces us to re-view old concepts with fresh eyes. Relatedly, Side Effects (2006) wades into the paradoxical way that language often marginalizes meaning when we rely on shortcuts, catchphrases and clichés in our speech without ever touching back to reality. He alludes to telegraphed notions, like sound bytes, that reduce the vitality of original thoughts in dot-dash-dot summations. Such “tangential” communications have the power to derail Freud’s fluid genius, or to impose a rigid, institutionalized cladding on the practice of psychology when, in fact, the field is always changing and expanding. For Phillips, everything is subject to a new perspective, and the consequence is literally refreshing. In a similar vein, On Balance (2010) explores how we tend to prioritize imbalance over equilibrium. In actuality, we need to acknowledge and apply both to function in life.
Art and architectural historian Karen Mulder is all for Going Sane.