On Balance by Adam Phillips (Hamish Hamilton, £20)
“The talking cure turned up to show us what talking cannot cure.” This judgement on psychoanalysis by Adam Phillips, himself a practising analyst, gives a flavour of his new essay collection. It is not so much a paradox as a fact presented in paradoxical form. Like all of Phillips’s writing, On Balance radiates the rarest type of questioning intelligence—one that does not aim for solutions to problems but shows that looking for solutions is often the problem. Though the practice he invented has been turned into a problem-solving method, Freud did not see psychoanalysis as a solution; he didn’t even see life as a problem. We think we should be happy—but why, Phillips asks, does being happy matter so much to us? In these wise, witty and playful essays, taking in the nature of fundamentalism, excess, authenticity and much else, Phillips continues Freud’s work.
This article originally appeared in the August 2010 edition of Prospect.