The Beast In The Nursery

The Beast In The Nursery

by Adam Phillips
     
 

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If you are disturbed by the idea that to grow up is to learn to live with disillusionment, if you are fascinated by the perplexity of child-rearing, or if you fear you were more creative as a child, The Beast in the Nursery offers an illuminating and possibly life-changing experience.
     In four interrelated essays, Adam Phillips arrives at

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Overview

If you are disturbed by the idea that to grow up is to learn to live with disillusionment, if you are fascinated by the perplexity of child-rearing, or if you fear you were more creative as a child, The Beast in the Nursery offers an illuminating and possibly life-changing experience.
     In four interrelated essays, Adam Phillips arrives at startling new insights into issues that preoccupied Freud, showing in the process that far from having lost its relevance, psychoanalysis is still one of our most incisive tools for the exploration of the human psyche and its possibilities.  Phillips transforms the genre of the essay into an instrument for intellectual investigation of the most absorbing kind.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The restoration of a vigorous, wide-ranging interest in life is an admirable goal, and Phillips addresses himself to the task with wit, humane intelligence and . . . sensitivity." —The New York Times Book Review

"Elegantly contentious. . . . There is no one writing better than [Phillips] about desire in all of its complexity, with all of its dark secrets and dark possbility, its necessity and compulsion and satiability. The Beast in the Nursery is a difficult, cerebral and beautiful book." —New York Observer

"[Phillips is] a writer with a unique voice, a gadfly permissive to his own curiosity. His stylistic feints startle us into sympathy with the unexpected." —The Washington Post

"[The] Oliver Sacks of Psychoanalysis. . . . Adam Phillips writes with far-sighted equanimity. " —The Boston Globe

David Futrelle

The Beast In the Nursery is not, despite its gently lurid title, a horror story. Or perhaps it is. The beast Adam Phillips refers to is not a dastardly child-snatcher but in fact the child himself, an imperious creature who will not be ignored. The real child-snatchers in this story are Sigmund Freud and his followers. The central story of psychoanalysis is the story of the beastly child -- and the story of adults putting away childish things, rejecting infantile fantasies of omnipotence, accepting their inevitable defeat in the Oedipal struggle. In many ways, Phillips notes in his new collection of essays, contemporary psychoanalysis is a profession devoted to disenchantment.

Phillips (author of Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored and Monogamy) understands all too well the dangers of narcissistic fantasy. But at the same time he wonders if, in curing us from our overactive imaginations, contemporary psychoanalysts aren't also making life a little grayer. And so Phillips gently nudges us toward a more expansive view of human possibility -- rejecting the "kitsch seriousness" of many of his colleagues and offering "two cheers for what psychoanalysts call 'omnipotence.'"

The child, as Freud himself observed, is a "virtuoso of desire." Like Freud, Phillips seeks a sort of inspiration in what Freud called the "sexual theories of children," those vaguely daft hypotheses children conjure up to explain the mysterious but compelling world of adult sexuality. Unlike, say, most parents, Freud didn't simply dismiss such theories as nonsense -- kids say the darndest things! "Although they go astray in a grotesque fashion," he wrote of children's sexual "theories," "each one of them contains a fragment of real truth." Indeed, Freud went on to liken the child's overheated imaginings to the "strokes of genius" of adults attempting to uncover the secrets of a universe.

From Freud's observation, Phillips builds his book. Children may be narcissistic, impossible and vaguely deranged, but they have more life than the rest of us. In putting away childish things, Phillips suggests, we need to be careful not to toss away what is most valuable in life, the mad passions that animate us and make life worth living in the first place.

As always, Phillips prefers not to be too direct. In a chapter on hinting, Phillips suggests that vague and indirect hints are more valuable than outright orders, for hints allow us more room for imagination and improvisation. In another chapter, he writes about our childhood acquisition of language -- and what we lose in the process.

Like Freud in his most optimistic moments, Phillips urges us "to be suspicious of clarity and to value what catches our attention, to find the plausible always slightly absurd, and to be in awe of the passions." Phillips' own writings are prime examples of what we can achieve if we put aside, at least for a moment, the overly sensible -- and set out to discover what really moves us. -- Salon

Stephen Greenblatt
[A] lively and intelligent book.
The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Exactly what child psychotherapist Phillips is trying to say here is rather a puzzle. With Freud as his mentor, he seems to be exploring the ramifications of repressed sexuality, adaptation to civilized norms, and subsequent loss of delight and interest in life. He states that "as we grow up, we become the sophisticated antagonists of our own pleasure." To counteract this diminution of pleasure, there needs to be "a continual transfiguring of the facts of life by the fantasies of life." Phillips focuses mainly on the loss of appetites and little on the process of restoring them. This rehashing of Freud's ideas is done with a great deal of circumlocution, rhetorical questions, parenthetical asides, and word manipulation. The result is a rather plodding presentation that does little to arouse our pleasure or curiosity.Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, Tex.
The New York Observer
Cerebral and beautiful...Mr. Phillips' authority once again rings loud and true. [He is] a prophet of originality.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375700477
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/01/1999
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

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Meet the Author

Adam Phillips is the author of Winnicott; On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; On Flirtation; Terrors and Experts; and Monogamy. Formerly the principal child psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London, he lives in England.

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