Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life

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All of us lead two parallel lives: the one we are actively living, and the one we feel we should have had or might yet have. As hard as we try to exist in the moment, the unlived life is an inescapable presence, a shadow at our heels. And this itself can become the story of our lives: an elegy to unmet needs and sacrificed desires. We become haunted by the myth of our own potential, ...

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All of us lead two parallel lives: the one we are actively living, and the one we feel we should have had or might yet have. As hard as we try to exist in the moment, the unlived life is an inescapable presence, a shadow at our heels. And this itself can become the story of our lives: an elegy to unmet needs and sacrificed desires. We become haunted by the myth of our own potential, of what we have in ourselves to be or to do. And this can make of our lives a perpetual game of falling short.

But what happens if we remove the idea of failure from the equation? With his flair for graceful paradox, the acclaimed psychoanalyst Adam Phillips suggests that if we accept frustration as a way of outlining what we really want, satisfaction suddenly becomes possible. To crave a life without frustration is to crave a life without the potential to identify and accomplish our desires.

In Missing Out, an elegant, compassionate, and absorbing book, Phillips draws deeply on his own clinical experience as well as on the works of Shakespeare and Freud, of D. W. Winnicott and William James, to suggest that frustration, not getting it, and getting away with it are all chapters in our unlived lives--and may be essential to the one fully lived.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A wonderfully concise appeal for presentness...Elegantly stated.”—The Boston Globe

Missing Out is [Adam Phillips’s] most poetic, paradoxical, repetitive, and punning yet; he doesn’t argue in a linear fashion but nestles ideas within ideas, like Russian dolls.”—Sheila Heti, The New York Times Book Review

“[Adam Phillips] has an elegant prose style...with a talent for turning a phrase, a knack for epigrams—Los Angeles Review of Books

“Extraordinary…Always humane, never reductive, Phillips is one of those writers whom it is a pleasure simply to hear think.”—The Sunday Telegraph (London)

The Boston Globe

A wonderfully concise appeal for presentness...Elegantly stated.
The New York Times Book Review Sheila Heti

Missing Out is [Adam Phillips's] most poetic, paradoxical, repetitive, and punning yet; he doesn't argue in a linear fashion but nestles ideas within ideas, like Russian dolls.
The Sunday Telegraph (London)

Extraordinary…Always humane, never reductive, Phillips is one of those writers whom it is a pleasure simply to hear think.
The New York Times Book Review - Sheila Heti
Missing Out, Phillips's 17th book, is his most poetic, paradoxical, repetitive and punning yet; he doesn't argue in a linear fashion but nestles ideas within ideas, like Russian dolls. The result feels less like a clean literary feat than the underground rumblings that produce literature…With Phillips, we feel our wished-for satisfactions…listened to and killed, and yet not really die. And he offers us another kind of hope too—not the consumerist one, that all our dreams may come true, but the hope that our frustrations might lead us out of the fantasy world in our minds and into an engagement with what is. After all, "the only satisfactions available are the satisfactions of reality, which are themselves frustrating."
The Barnes & Noble Review

Because human beings have imaginations of a certain sort, our lives are experienced alongside countless alternate realities: those mentally constructed lives lived, a panoply of ways things might have turned out otherwise. This presumably sets us apart from other animals: depictions and articulations of our unlived days, including works of imaginative literature, play a role in our existence they could not possibly play in theirs, and the attempt to puzzle out the mysterious relationship between our real and hypothetical selves seems something distinctively human. Such complexities help keep psychoanalysts in business. For Adam Phillips, who is both an analyst and a prolific essayist and literary critic - - and is thus highly attuned to the role of fictions in the lives of human beings — business is booming. Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life may be the first of Phillips's many books explicitly devoted to this topic, but his work has in fact touched on these issues many times before. But then again, if a large proportion of Phillips's writing over the years has been concerned, in one way or another, with the haunting conviction that one is missing out on something important, this might simply be because a great deal of human life is colored if not dominated by this concern. The feeling that one is missing an important experience might be one of the most fundamental experiences there is.

To get a sense of how prominent these themes have been in Phillips's previous writings, we might start with the fact that the title of one of the five essays that make up Missing Out, "On Getting Away With It," is a title that has already made an appearance in his oeuvre. Phillips's fifteenth book, On BalanceMissing Out's immediate predecessor — also contained an essay called "On Getting Away With It." And while the two essays approach their subjects from different angles and do not end up in the same place, it is clear that they are traveling over the same conceptual territory. Even some of the examples they use are similar.

So just what is Phillips trying to get at? (Or is he not trying to get at anything at all but simply trying to get away with something?) One possibility is that the second "On Getting Away With It" represents all of Phillips's unwritten work, the thousands of versions of his essays that never got the chance to exist, precisely because they were preempted by the finalized and published versions that did. Had he written on a different day, had he sat down in a different mood, any one of his works might have come out quite differently; there is no definitive version, only the version that was lucky enough to get itself down on paper, which is treated as definitive because it is all we have. And our lives, in some way, are like this as well: each actual action and event — the public, "published" version — is only one among an incomprehensible number of possibilities, distinguished from the others only by sheer chance, by having been granted the privilege of being.

What impresses Phillips, and concerns him, is how confident we feel in our judgments about these alternative, unlived lives: we take ourselves to know what they would have been like, and in particular to know when they would have been superior to the lives we actually ended up with. "There is, clearly, a kind of knowledge borne of the absence of experience," Phillips writes in the On Balance essay. "It often tends towards cliché and omniscience—there is no language more clichéd than the language of the omnipotent—but there is also a freedom to imagine in it." And in Missing Out he writes, "This is my supposition: we live as if we know more about the experiences we haven't had than about the experiences we have had." In reference to Philip Larkin's poem "This Be the Verse" — the poem that begins with Larkin's famous line "They fuck you up, your mum and dad," and ends with a couplet's worth of advice: "Get out as early as you can, / And don't have any kids yourself" — Phillips comments:

The conviction of Larkin's narrator comes from his certainty of what will happen to us if we have children. But of course the one thing you cannot know about having children is what it is like to have children if you haven't got them?. The risk, in a way, is that the omniscience about what one is getting out of — a relationship, a commitment, an arrangement — is matched by an omniscience about what one is getting out for.
This belief in our own omniscience, and the role it plays in our decision making, is one of Missing Out's fundamental themes. The book is replete with literary references, and a great many of them are to Shakespeare's tragedies. What interests Phillips most is the rigid and ruthless way Shakespeare's tragic heroes have of desiring and pursuing satisfaction, and in particular revenge, and their impregnable confidence that they have fully and accurately imagined what it will be like to have their desires satisfied.

Like Othello and Lear, we are frequently made unhappy by our confidence, by our certainty; in particular, our certainty that we know the people around us, and our certainty that what we want most from them is predictability and a kind of reassuring security. Phillips considers a scene from Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair in which the protagonist, Bendrix, who is in the process of seducing a young woman, begins to feel repelled by what he foresees as the inevitable consequences of the seduction — an act of imagination that, as Phillips observes, entirely omits the free agency and unknowable character of the other human being who is involved. "There is no suggestion that she might change his plans, that who she happens to be might impinge upon the certainties of his fantasy," Phillips writes. Bendrix's way of viewing the situation "seems to come out of an incontestable knowledge of himself and about Sylvia; about an experience neither of them have yet had. The question is, what might happen in the absence of such certainties?"

We do often treat people in this way, as if they were props or preprogrammed artifacts rather than that most mysterious and unpredictable thing, the human individual. "People become real to us by frustrating us. If they don't frustrate us they are merely figures of fantasy." But this leads Phillips to one of his beloved paradoxes, for he has already noted that "reality matters because it is the only thing that can satisfy us." After all, we can imagine the most delicious meal in the world, but the only meal that will relieve our hunger is one that exists in the actual world, "which will at best be only an approximation of the one you wanted, but has the advantage of being one you can actually eat." (This closely recalls Woody Allen's formulation of the point: "I hate reality, but where else can you get a good steak dinner?")

Reality, then, fails by its very nature to satisfy us — that's precisely what makes it real — yet it is the only thing that can satisfy. That, one might say, is the human predicament. The human task, then, would be to live with this knowledge, to accept that "possibility can be born only of experiment, of risk," to learn to "start imagining desiring not without an object of desire, but without imagining too certainly the satisfactions that might accrue" It would be to accept that all life is a matter of missing out, that being excluded from a group one desired to join is in its own way a source of pleasure and meaning. (As the poet and aphorist James Richardson has written, "Each lock makes two prisons.") It is to realize that to be a grown-up is in part to look back with painful nostalgia, to want badly to again be the child that wanted so badly to be a grown-up. It is to see that missing the meaning of a difficult text — say, a poem by John Ashbery or an essay by Adam Phillips — can be as productive as "getting it," if not more so.

Is this, then, the secret to human happiness? It is good advice, perhaps, though Phillips, as a lover of paradoxes, would be the first to point out that in certain circumstances it might be precisely the wrong advice. At any rate, he is far too shrewd to see this as the final and conclusive answer. Indeed, it would be a grave mistake to think of him as the sort of writer who is primarily interested in finding final and conclusive answers, or to cast Missing Out as some sort of self-help book. That would be to miss the essential and deliberate difficulty of Phillips's writing, and to ignore the fact that his project, far from being a type of self-help, is instead self-exploration — a much more unsettling process.

Thus, when an attentive reader of Phillips reaches a passage like this one — "One of the ironies, if that is the right word, promoted by Freud and [Wilfred] Bion is that many of our satisfactions are forms of frustration. That we are radically inadequate pleasure-seekers because we are unable to countenance our frustration.? True satisfactions, real satisfactions, satisfying satisfactions — it is difficult to know what the phrase is — should be the key to our frustrations, the clue from which we can unravel the nature of the felt deprivation" — she will know, intuitively, that Phillips is not as optimistic as Freud and Bion about there being any such thing as "the key to our frustrations," that to some degree the search for such a key can end only in — what else? — frustration. And the proximity of the word key to the word nature will remind her that in On Balance Phillips bluntly states, "There is no key to our nature," rejecting the very idea of a magic talisman that might crack the code of the human. The belief in such a key is one of the consoling fantasies that one must abandon in the process of growing up; and one of the keys to understanding Phillips (though there is, of course, no key to understanding Phillips) is to get a feel for how the project of trying to understand human nature might still seem worth doing even in light of this fact; how, under such circumstances, the attempt might indeed seem even more necessary and compelling.

To reduce the message of Missing Out to a simple exhortation to open ourselves to the world and stop trying to force reality to conform to our predetermined notions — or indeed, to insist that the book can be reduced to any message at all — would be to violate that exhortation in the very act of expressing it. It may well be, after all, that Phillips has his own books in mind when he writes that "to get some things, to be able to give a fluent account of them, is to misrecognize their nature; to pre-empt the experience by willing the meaning, or by supposedly articulating the meaning." We book reviewers, of course, get our timecards stamped at the Office of Fluent Accounts, and this way of thinking makes our task somewhat more difficult. But this is not a difficulty to which Phillips would object. "The wish to be understood," he suggests, "may be our most vengeful demand." On the evidence of this rich, compelling, and satisfyingly frustrating book, this wish may be one form of vengeance Adam Phillips has learned not to desire.

Troy Jollimore is Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Chico. His most recent books are Love's Vision and At Lake Scugog: Poems, both from Princeton University Press.

Reviewer: Troy Jollimore

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250043511
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 12/31/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 326,990
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and a visiting professor in the English department at the University of York who writes frequently for the London Review of Books. He is the author of many books, including On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; Going Sane; Side Effects; and On Balance. He is also the coauthor, with the historian Barbara Taylor, of On Kindness.

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Read an Excerpt

On Frustration


Nothing I know matters more

Than what never happened.

John Burnside, ‘Hearsay’

Tragedies are stories about people not getting what they want, but not all stories about people not getting what they want seem tragic. In comedies people get something of what they want, but in tragedies people often discover that their wanting doesn’t work, and as the story unfolds they get less and less of what they thought they wanted. Indeed, both what they want and how they go about wanting it wreaks havoc and ultimately destroys the so-called tragic hero and, of course, his enemies and accomplices. Whether it is called ambition, the quest for love, or the search for truth, tragedies expose, to put it as simply as possible, what the unhappy ending of wanting something looks like – of wanting to displace a king, of wanting vengeance for one’s father, of wanting a special daughter’s love announced. Tragic heroes are failed pragmatists. Their ends are unrealistic and their means are impractical.

Given that we live in a state of permanent need; are, as the psychoanalyst John Rickman said, ‘instinct-ridden’, always found wanting, what is it that makes desiring tragic, dire rather than amusing, full of dread rather than full of life? Isaiah Berlin, in a famous pronouncement in ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, offered the liberal position: ‘If, as I believe, the ends of men are many, and not all of them are in principle compatible with each other, then the possibility of conflict – and of tragedy – can never wholly be eliminated from human life, either personal or social.’ We always have competing wants, they are often incompatible, so in making choices essentials are sacrificed. Lives are tragic not merely when people can’t have everything they want but when their wanting mutilates them; when what they want entails an unbearable loss. What can be described as tragic about the Oedipus complex, named after a tragedy, is that the child, in the Freudian account, in desiring one parent turns the other into a rival, and ultimately has to relinquish his need for his parents in order to be a wholeheartedly desiring adult. You have to give up being a child, for sex; and that, of course, may not be all you have to give up. The quest, one might say, is the finding out whether it is worth it (it is a variant of ‘you must lose your life in order to find it’). Because, in Berlin’s terms, our ends are many, and often enough incompatible, devastating losses are sometimes entailed. Shakespeare’s King Lear wants to divide his kingdom into three, but he wants one third, Cordelia’s, to be more ‘opulent’ than the other two; he wants to relinquish his crown but sustain something of his power; he wants his daughters and sons-in-law to collaborate with him in being his accomplices; he wants to live as he wants, in other people’s houses. He loses everything he wants, and everything he needs.

The pragmatist would say that the art of life is in rendering incompatible wants compatible; redescribing them such that they are no longer mutually exclusive (Lear might say to Cordelia, ‘OK, put it in a way that works for you’). The liberal realist would say that this is to misrecognize the nature of human needs. The pragmatist believes that we make our lives impossible by making up impossible choices. In reality we can have, say, justice and mercy, be children and have adult relationships. The liberal realist would say that, often – and particularly in the hard cases, such as, Should we let ex-Nazis lead pleasurable lives? – mercy and justice are compatible only when they lose definition. Both these positions, we can see, are, whatever else they are, different solutions to the same problem: the problem of frustration. The trials and tribulations of wanting are born of frustration; to choose one thing may involve frustrating ourselves of something else. So a lot depends on whether we can bear frustration and whether we want to. If we were creatures less convinced and convincing about our so-called needs we would suffer in quite different ways. Tragedies begin with a person in an emerging state of frustration, beginning to feel the need of something; and at the beginning, for the protagonists, they are not yet tragedies.

Tragedies begin with a dramatic scene in which an urgent frustration unfolds, seeking first definition and then solution. At the very beginning of a tragedy everyone is a pragmatist; people have answers and believe that solutions probably exist. They behave as if they know what frustration is, and that it can be met. But the first English dictionary, Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall of 1604, has, for the word ‘frustrate’, ‘make voyde, deceive’. ‘Make voyde’, in seventeenth-century usage, also meant ‘to avoid’ (as in Coriolanus: ‘for if / I had fear’d death, of all the men i’ the world / I would have ’voided thee’ (IV.5), as well as the more familiar meaning of ‘to get rid of’, ‘to empty out’; and ‘deceive’ in this period meant not only ‘to trick’ but ‘to disappoint’. Avoidance, of course, is a getting rid of, but coupled with the word ‘deceive’, ‘to frustrate’ seems to have more to do with lying and cheating than with simply depriving someone of something they need; more to do with guile and cunning and calculation than with meanness. To frustrate someone in this seventeenth-century meaning is to knowingly mislead them. There is something underhand about it, something illicit.

As it happens, Cawdrey was a man, as far as we know, not given to evasive behaviour, but to plain speaking, a man in trouble with the authorities. He suffered what was for him the tyranny of Elizabeth’s established Church (for ‘tyrannize’ he has in his dictionary ‘use crueltie’); he was a Puritan Nonconformist priest who was known for ‘speaking divers words in the pulpit, tending to the depraving of the Book of Common Prayer’, and ‘not conforming himself in the celebration of the divine service and administration of the Sacraments, but refusing to do so’ (The First English Dictionary) (for ‘conform’ Cawdrey has ‘to make like unto, to consent’). We might now think it entirely appropriate that a future lexicographer would be ‘speaking divers words in the pulpit’ before losing his living as a priest. ‘To frustrate’ in Cawdrey’s sense is not straightforwardly to refuse someone something; it is, in that strange phrase, to ‘make voyde’ – literally to make something into nothing, to deceive – literally to cause someone to believe something that is false. It is, one might say, a form of magic, a conjuring trick; something there is not there, something false is true.

*   *   *

In a famous scene in King Lear (IV.6) – probably written a year or two after Cawdrey’s dictionary – in which Edgar is supposedly helping his blind father, Gloucester, to jump over the cliff, we find again these twinned meanings of a now all-too-familiar word. Unable to deliver himself from torment by suicide, Gloucester invokes the common theme of the play – the loss of props, of cultural forms to contain conflict, the present impossibility of conciliating rival claims; that there are things that can neither be avoided nor banished:

Alack, I have no eyes.

Is wretchedness depriv’d that benefit

To end itself by death? ’Twas yet some comfort,

When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage,

And frustrate his proud will.

What you do with proud wills, in both senses, is the play’s issue. In the first act Lear, in his tyrant’s rage at Cordelia’s apparent refusal – and one of the questions the play asks is, in what way is Cordelia frustrating her father? – accuses his daughter of deception: ‘Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.’ Her pride, he says, will have to be her dowry, and get her a husband. Pride means knowing, intractably, what you want. There are many enraged tyrants in this play, and the play keeps working out what we should do with them, and what it is that makes them tyrannical. Gloucester here adds death to the troop of tyrants, but strangely he looks back almost with nostalgia to a time when suicide was an option – even, perhaps alluding to Cleopatra, a noble option – but acknowledging at the same time that the only thing you can do with tyrants is deceive them: ‘’Twas yet some comfort, / When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage, / And frustrate his proud will.’ The point is reiterated; beguiling the tyrant’s rage means cheating it, as does frustrating his proud will. Someone is seemingly omnipotent and then, as if by magic, they are not. Their power is void (as is Lear’s). It is evidently a paradoxical point that you can cheat the tyrant Death by killing yourself – you win by losing – or by identifying the enemy. Gloucester could deprive Death by dying. In what sense has the tyrant been frustrated?

A tyrant is someone who wants something from us that we don’t want to give. And in this sense Death could be described as a tyrant. So we can say, by way of an initial proposal, that a tyrant can be someone we want to frustrate, or even need to frustrate. Our lives (and, indeed, the best lives of others), as Cordelia shows, might depend upon our being able to do this. And given the nature of tyranny, the omnipotence it aspires to, this is going to require some trickery, some invention, some deception. Or, rather, something that can feel like deception only to the one who is being refused. Cordelia is speaking plainly, but to Lear she is speaking with pride; from the tyrant’s point of view, not to be given what one wants is indeed to be deceived. And it is a deception because Lear assumes, rightly or wrongly, that it is within Cordelia’s power to give him what he wants. A tyrant is someone who believes that what he demands is available and can be given (to be entitled is, by definition, not to question the reality of what it is one is entitled to). So, a familiar situation arises: Cordelia is not deceiving Lear, but Lear feels deceived by her. Cordelia is not giving Lear what he wants, but she is not deceiving him (in her view she would be tricking him if she complied, as her sisters do). In Cawdrey’s terms she ‘makes voyde’ his claim, his demand; Lear feels he is being tricked. What is it to frustrate someone? To make void what they want, but not necessarily to deceive them. What is it to be frustrated? To feel deceived because, it is assumed, the person has whatever it is that you want from them (it is in their gift). This assumption is sometimes true and sometimes not; it would seem more hopeful to assume that they are withholding something that they could give you, but if this turns out not to be true, then your hopefulness is under suspicion (frustration is optimistic in the sense that it believes that what is wanted is available, so we might talk about frustration as a form of faith). When you feel frustrated you are, like Lear, the authority on what you want. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be a tyrant and you wouldn’t be in a rage.

If you are the frustrator, like Cordelia – the one who in this instance refuses to be complicit with the demand being made, the demand for exorbitant love – you are a different kind of authority; you are the authority on what you are realistically able to give (‘I love your Majesty/ According to my bond; no more nor less’ (I.1). Or rather, perhaps, the authority on what you want to give. Giving Lear the other thing that Goneril and Regan give him would, we might say, turn her into something she doesn’t want to be; would be a way of making a world for herself that she couldn’t bear to live in. And put in this way, of course, the frustrator sounds more morally interesting, in a more complex predicament, than the one who is frustrated. Lear is an old man having a tantrum and Cordelia, who will not abide by her father’s injunction – ‘Mend your speech a little, / Lest you may mar your Fortunes’ (I.1) – loses her family in speaking her truth.

And yet there is something symmetrical about Lear and Cordelia; they both, at the beginning of the play, know exactly what they want. And I don’t think we solve this problem by saying, in one way or another, that what Cordelia wants is better than what Lear wants. It certainly isn’t worse, but it is no less intractable (John Berryman, in Berryman’s Shakespeare, writes of ‘the exquisite matching of a slight excess in Cordelia – an excess of contempt for her sister’s extravagant replies over her filial emotion – against a decided prematurity in Lear’s ungovernable rage against her’). Lear, we might say, even if it is on the basis of it-takes-one-to-know-one, is not completely wrong in implying that there is something tyrannical – though not enraged – about Cordelia’s position. Neither, in the opening scene, can change the other’s mind. ‘The cause of tragedy,’ Stanley Cavell writes in his great essay on King Lear, ‘The Avoidance of Love’, ‘is that we would rather murder the world than permit it to expose us to change’ (Disowning Knowledge). We would rather destroy everything than let other people change us, so strong is our memory of how changed we were at the very beginning of our lives by certain other people; people who could change our misery into bliss, as if by magic, and which we were unable to do for ourselves (all we could do was signal our distress and hope someone got the point). In the first scene of the first act it is Lear, not Cordelia, who would rather murder the world than expose himself to change. Cavell intimates that we are always looking for an alternative to changing, to being, as he puts it, exposed to change. The frustration scene – which goes back a long way – is the scene of transformation. Everything depends on what we would rather do than change.

To frustrate, then, is to, in one way or another, make void a demand made on oneself; to avoid it or to make it as nothing; and it is to deceive the other person either if you have what they want and won’t give it, or if you can create the illusion that you have what they want but are merely refusing to give it. And to be or feel frustrated is to be maddened by having one’s demand negated or avoided or tantalized. In this picture it is as though a contract has been broken; as if one person always has what the other person demands of them and the only question is how to get it (God, of course, can be this other person, or the state). In the optimistic version of this story the only question is a pragmatic one: I want to get from A to B, I just have to find out how to get there, and how to get the wherewithal to get there. I want my favourite daughter’s love for me declared, so I ask her to speak. This assumes, of course, a preconstituted subject, a person without an unconscious; a person who, because he knows what he wants and needs, knows what he is doing, and so only has to work out how to get his satisfaction; and, if need be, as the Lear story shows, how to bear not getting what is supposedly wanted (it is frustration that makes us inventive, resourceful, at our best and at our worst). Clearly the demand for love, the demand that love be articulated, is something of a special case. As is what can be asked for between parents and children, who are continually having to work out what is possible between them. So the issue of entitlement between parents and children, or between lovers, or between friends, can never be straightforward. The entitled are always too knowing.

Knowing too exactly what we want is what we do when we know what we want, or when we don’t know what we want (are, so to speak, unconscious of our wanting, and made anxious by our lack of direction), or when we are so fearful of what we want we displace it on to a known object in a state of militant certainty (if we say that at the beginning of the play Lear is in a terrified state of not knowing what he wants at this stage of his life, or is testing what kingship entails, his reaction to Cordelia’s response can be seen in a different light). Knowing what one wants is a way of not exposing oneself to change (or of taking change too much into one’s own hands, subjecting it to one’s will); and, by the same token, taking up Cavell’s point, is prone to make us murderous. So it is tempting to say that we can be at our most self-deceiving in states of frustration; as though frustration were an unbearable form of self-doubt, a state in which we can so little tolerate not knowing what we want, not knowing whether it is available, and not having it that we fabricate certainties to fill the void (we fill in the gaps with states of conviction). The frustration is itself a temptation scene, one in which we must invent something to be tempted by. Satisfaction is no more the solution to frustration than certainty is the solution to scepticism. Indeed, it may be misleading to think of frustration as a question; or it may be a question with no answer; or with only approximate answers, like Lear’s ‘Tell me, my daughters … / Which of you shall we say doth love us most?’ (I.1), which reminds us that it is all in the saying, and that the saying is as close as we can get. The play asks us to wonder, in other words, about what we do with our frustration and what our frustration does with us; it being one of the starker facts about the experience of frustration that it raises the question of agency, of whether, quite literally, frustration is something we can do something with, or can ever avoid doing something with. Or whether what we think of as our agency – or our will, or our capacity to make choices – is something invented, called up, by this primal experience of frustration (the idea of the self as a self-cure for our first helplessness in the face of our need, like bravado in a storm). As the British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion writes in Second Thoughts, as we shall see, everything ‘depends on whether the decision is to evade frustration or to modify it’.


Copyright © 2012 by Adam Phillips

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    I would recommend that any potential reader of "Missing Out

    I would recommend that any potential reader of "Missing Out" ignore the perspective of the previous reviewer, who, to all appearances, is not qualified to write online reviews of anything. To wit: "would of" should be "would have", "grasp" should remain in the present tense, and last time I checked, "the" began with a "t", not an "f".

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2013

    Save your money

    This is not what i expected. I felt it would of been stories of personal experinces. I didnt grasped what fhe author was teaching. This was a waste of money.

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2014


    Welcome to the miss out club. Where u miss out on everything and anything. From suicides and lives, tears and laughs, to hugs and pillow fights. We miss out and no one tells us anything here. Kinda depressing right now cuz im the only one in it but im not worried. People will join soon enough.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2014


    xD you an awesome sis Gem best ive ever had i miss u when you leave dont go plz

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2014

    Dawn to Scourge

    hi.. sorry, i haven't really had time to get on. i've been traveling in rl these past few days, so i only have wifi when we stop at hotels. but, anyways. "so, how do you like it? being a vampire, i mean. do you have any abilities?"

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2014


    Continue here

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2014

    Fangs room

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    To Ana

    Welcome back! :)

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014


    Waiting here. And its been nearly a month...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    World of Lies Part 1

    Athena scowled. "Something obviously went on here." She observed of Khiones Olympus dwelling. The place was a wreck, shards of ice and piles of snow where everywhere. Nothing looked like it had ecsaped the fight unharmed.<br>"Agreed. Though to me it looks like it was a one sided fight." Ares replied. "One that Khione should have one."<br>"Exactly. We need to figure out what happened here." Athena stepped carefully over an ice shard. "It appears nothing was taken but Khione herself." Zeus had sent them to look around the houses and temples of the missing, Hera, Artimus, and Khione. Ares bent over and picked up an ice dagger then grunted.<br>"Theres no blood here either. I suppose that we have to assume that they were kidnapped." Athena nodded her head in agreement. Then a girl who appeared to be about 13 years old stepped into the house.<br>"Forgive me if I have disturbed you." The girl said bowing, her white wings folding neatly into place on her back.<br>"Is there any news Nike?" Sthena asked walking over to her friend. The minor goddess shook her head. Athena turned surveying the room one last time. "Have we been able to contact the Egyptians?" Again the minor goddes shook her head.<br>"Lord Zeus is not allowing any outside comunication until everyone else is accounted for." Nike and Ares followed Athena out of Khiones temple and back to the main part of Olympus.<br>"May I suggest that you go and find information on our last encounter with the Egyptians, Lady Athena, while I report to Lord Zeus?" Ares spoke up.<br>They stopped walking as she thougth this over. "That sounds like a worth-while plan." She said after a minute. "Nike, would you help in the census and report any news back to me?"<br>"Of course my lady!" Nike said and spread her wings out. With one last bow the winged goddess took to the air flying towards the central pavilion. The two remaining gods seperated, Ares taking the higher path to Olympus and Athena the path that led to her own home.<br>Three gods were missing, if not more, and the only clue to the puzzel was the Egyptian nexklaces left behind. When the Greeks had last encountered the Egyptians they were on good terms. So why this now? And hat did it have to do with the missing goddesses? Nothing was making any sense.<p>•All parts will continue in he resault after the one posted in untill I say different•<p>••Ana

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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