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Terrors And Experts

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Iris Murdoch once suggested that to understand any philosopher's work we must ask what he or she is frightened of. To understand any psychoanalyst's work--both as a clinician and as a writer--we should ask what he or she loves, because psychoanalysis is about the unacceptable and about love, two things that we may prefer to keep apart, but that Freud found to be inextricable. If it is possible to talk about psychoanalysis as a scandal, without spuriously glamorizing it, then one way of doing it is simply to say ...

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Overview

Iris Murdoch once suggested that to understand any philosopher's work we must ask what he or she is frightened of. To understand any psychoanalyst's work--both as a clinician and as a writer--we should ask what he or she loves, because psychoanalysis is about the unacceptable and about love, two things that we may prefer to keep apart, but that Freud found to be inextricable. If it is possible to talk about psychoanalysis as a scandal, without spuriously glamorizing it, then one way of doing it is simply to say that Freud discovered that love was compatible, though often furtively, with all that it was meant to exclude. There are, in other words--and most of literature is made up of these words--no experts on love. And love, whatever else it is, is terror.

In a manner characteristically engaging and challenging, charming and maddening, Adam Phillips teases out the complicity between desire and the forbidden, longing and dread. His book is a chronicle of that all-too-human terror, and of how expertise, in the form of psychoanalysis, addresses our fears--in essence, turns our terror into meaning.

It is terror, of course, that traditionally drives us into the arms of the experts. Phillips takes up those topics about which psychoanalysis claims expertise--childhood, sexuality, love, development, dreams, art, the unconscious, unhappiness--and explores what Freud's description of the unconscious does to the idea of expertise, in life and in psychoanalysis itself. If we are not, as Freud's ideas tell us, masters of our own houses, then what kind of claims can we make for ourselves? In what senses can we know what we are doing? These questions, so central to the human condition and to the state of psychoanalysis, resonate through this book as Phillips considers our notions of competence, of a professional self, of expertise in every realm of life from parenting to psychoanalysis. Terrors and Experts testifies to what makes psychoanalysis interesting, to that interest in psychoanalysis--which teaches us the meaning of our ignorance--that makes the terrors of life more bearable, even valuable.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

In Phillips's hands, psychoanalysis becomes an instrument of reproducible magic, a poetics you can use at home...Terrors and Experts has him wielding the writerly tools he used to such good effect in his previous [books]: paradox, aphorism, and exegesis of the mundane.
— Judith Shulevitz

Boston Globe

Skillfully dovetailing criticism of psychoanalytic theory with clinical experience, Phillips wants analysis to be playful rather than dogmatic, to celebrate ambiguity, not rigidity...Terrors and Experts displays the witty verve of On Kissing and its marvelous follow-up, On Flirtation...Terrors and Experts provides ample evidence that Phillips is one of today's most thoughtful, as well as entertaining, writers on the mind. [He makes] an expert case for turning psychoanalysis into a more creative and pleasurable discipline.
— Bill Marx

The Independent

[Phillips] radically redefines the legacy of Freud as a method of sustaining the life-giving stories that people tell themselves rather than a technological fix that will cure them. He is our leading proponent of the validity and vitality of the Freudian appeal.
— Bryan Appleyard

Esquire

In three superb books, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; On Flirtation; and Terrors and Experts...[Phillips] has endorsed pleasure as a laudable goal (imagine!) and enshrined narrative as a form of soul making. In the process, he's punched lovely skylights into the gloomy Freudian edifice and in general done much to rehabilitate the psychoanalytic enterprise by honoring the idiosyncrasy of human experience and by wielding method lightly, playfully, humanely.
— Will Blythe

Washington Times

In spite of the scientific shakedown of their ideology, psychoanalysts continue to have much to offer, if Adam Phillips and his new book, Terrors and Experts, are any indication. A child psychoanalyst and the author of several earlier books, Mr. Phillips continues here a project begun in On Flirtation of emphasizing the importance of uncertainty, error and magic in our thinking...Mr. Phillips writes well; his phrases dance, teasing from the reader new and often exciting ways of thinking about old ideas...The book is short, generally delightful...offering much to think about during these days when that magnificent age-old battle between truth and beauty (science and art, order and disorder) continues, now rippling its way through the field of psychiatry.
— Nicola Sater

Sunday Telegraph

Phillips is one of the most intelligent and humane of psychoanalytic writers and Terrors and Experts contains a great number of thought-provoking and sometimes brilliant ideas. It will be of interest to anyone who feels that something is wrong whenever people get very convinced that analysts know either all or nothing.
— Alain de Botton

New Statesman & Society

Adam Phillips [is] an interesting figure. In three recent books of essays he has started to put present-day psychoanalysis on the map. He reminds us that there is more to psychoanalysis than what Freud did (or didn't do) with Minna Bernays...What is most striking is Phillips' intellectual confidence...His writing about psychoanalysis [has a] refreshing iconoclasm. He has ditched the old baggage—its prejudice against homosexuality, its obsession with instincts—and offers a psychoanalysis which is surprising.
— David Herman

London Review of Books

Phillips's specification of the play of language as entering into 'an ordinary-language psychoanalysis', in alluding to so-called ordinary language philosophy, is an invitation to think further of psychoanalysis in connection with philosophy, specifically with the work of J. L. Austin and of the later Wittgenstein...I find this invitation to philosophy congenial and this way of writing attractive...Reports of Adam Phillips's celebrity suggest that his redescriptions are being rewarded. What I have noted here, in considering the relation of certain of Phillips's texts and practices with certain philosophical others, are various cues for finding, so far as my present competence and time have served, that this cause for raising a glass is well placed.
— Stanley Cavell

Independent on Sunday

Phillips wants us to recognize that psychoanalysis is not a science but an art...He means that like the novelist and the poet, the psychoanalyst should know things that the scientist does not—things about the limits to self-knowledge, the unpredictability of the human psyche, the ambiguities of moral life, the indeterminacy of meaning...The man is so literary he makes Proust sound like the author of Modern Organic Chemistry.
— Ben Rogers

San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

Is there any point in our reading about psychoanalysis when we do not forsee engaging in it? That depends on the writer. British analyst Adam Phillips, who specializes in working with children, is one of the few commentators on the subject who writes well, holds no brief for psychoanalysis as a profession and has a lot of philosophical and human sense
— Kenneth Baker

New York Times Book Review - Judith Shulevitz
In Phillips's hands, psychoanalysis becomes an instrument of reproducible magic, a poetics you can use at home...Terrors and Experts has him wielding the writerly tools he used to such good effect in his previous [books]: paradox, aphorism, and exegesis of the mundane.
Boston Globe - Bill Marx
Skillfully dovetailing criticism of psychoanalytic theory with clinical experience, Phillips wants analysis to be playful rather than dogmatic, to celebrate ambiguity, not rigidity...Terrors and Experts displays the witty verve of On Kissing and its marvelous follow-up, On Flirtation...Terrors and Experts provides ample evidence that Phillips is one of today's most thoughtful, as well as entertaining, writers on the mind. [He makes] an expert case for turning psychoanalysis into a more creative and pleasurable discipline.
The Independent - Bryan Appleyard
[Phillips] radically redefines the legacy of Freud as a method of sustaining the life-giving stories that people tell themselves rather than a technological fix that will cure them. He is our leading proponent of the validity and vitality of the Freudian appeal.
Esquire - Will Blythe
In three superb books, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; On Flirtation; and Terrors and Experts...[Phillips] has endorsed pleasure as a laudable goal (imagine!) and enshrined narrative as a form of soul making. In the process, he's punched lovely skylights into the gloomy Freudian edifice and in general done much to rehabilitate the psychoanalytic enterprise by honoring the idiosyncrasy of human experience and by wielding method lightly, playfully, humanely.
Washington Times - Nicola Sater
In spite of the scientific shakedown of their ideology, psychoanalysts continue to have much to offer, if Adam Phillips and his new book, Terrors and Experts, are any indication. A child psychoanalyst and the author of several earlier books, Mr. Phillips continues here a project begun in On Flirtation of emphasizing the importance of uncertainty, error and magic in our thinking...Mr. Phillips writes well; his phrases dance, teasing from the reader new and often exciting ways of thinking about old ideas...The book is short, generally delightful...offering much to think about during these days when that magnificent age-old battle between truth and beauty (science and art, order and disorder) continues, now rippling its way through the field of psychiatry.
Sunday Telegraph - Alain De Botton
Phillips is one of the most intelligent and humane of psychoanalytic writers and Terrors and Experts contains a great number of thought-provoking and sometimes brilliant ideas. It will be of interest to anyone who feels that something is wrong whenever people get very convinced that analysts know either all or nothing.
New Statesman & Society - David Herman
Adam Phillips [is] an interesting figure. In three recent books of essays he has started to put present-day psychoanalysis on the map. He reminds us that there is more to psychoanalysis than what Freud did (or didn't do) with Minna Bernays...What is most striking is Phillips' intellectual confidence...His writing about psychoanalysis [has a] refreshing iconoclasm. He has ditched the old baggage--its prejudice against homosexuality, its obsession with instincts--and offers a psychoanalysis which is surprising.
London Review of Books - Stanley Cavell
Phillips's specification of the play of language as entering into 'an ordinary-language psychoanalysis', in alluding to so-called ordinary language philosophy, is an invitation to think further of psychoanalysis in connection with philosophy, specifically with the work of J. L. Austin and of the later Wittgenstein...I find this invitation to philosophy congenial and this way of writing attractive...Reports of Adam Phillips's celebrity suggest that his redescriptions are being rewarded. What I have noted here, in considering the relation of certain of Phillips's texts and practices with certain philosophical others, are various cues for finding, so far as my present competence and time have served, that this cause for raising a glass is well placed.
Independent on Sunday - Ben Rogers
Phillips wants us to recognize that psychoanalysis is not a science but an art...He means that like the novelist and the poet, the psychoanalyst should know things that the scientist does not--things about the limits to self-knowledge, the unpredictability of the human psyche, the ambiguities of moral life, the indeterminacy of meaning...The man is so literary he makes Proust sound like the author of Modern Organic Chemistry.
San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle - Kenneth Baker
Is there any point in our reading about psychoanalysis when we do not forsee engaging in it? That depends on the writer. British analyst Adam Phillips, who specializes in working with children, is one of the few commentators on the subject who writes well, holds no brief for psychoanalysis as a profession and has a lot of philosophical and human sense
Dwight Garner

Adam Phillips is a London-based child psychotherapist who also happens to be a charming and casually profound essayist. His wonderful (and wonderfully-titled) books -- which include On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored and On Flirtation -- deftly scoop out the weightier meanings in light subjects. Phillips has often been referred to as the "Oliver Sacks of psychoanalysis," and in some respects the label fits. Yet Phillips is the more idiosyncratic writer; his wry, epigrammatical, dense-but-not-quite-scholarly style shines a strange, searching light on everyday events, and utterly transforms them.

Terrors and Experts makes a case, in six short essays, that our fears are often the very things that most ground us as human beings; they're the markers that signify "proximity to something of value, perhaps of ultimate value." What's more, he writes, we're oddly tickled by them: "the way we construct our defenses tends to suggest that we unconsciously invite, or sustain contact with, whatever we fear." Terrors and Experts comes most fully into its own when it critiques -- as almost all of Phillips' books do -- the analytic process. We flee into the arms of so-called experts for wildly complex reasons, he writes, not the least of them being sheer narcissism; psychoanalysis "makes fear bearable by making it interesting."

For Phillips, most of the problems with analysis lie in what he calls "the mystique of expertise" -- the mistaken idea that "because a person has done a recognizable or legitimated official training they are then qualified to claim something more than that they have done the training." Worse, too many experts have become too serious and doctrinaire: "When psychoanalysis makes too much sense, or makes sense of too much, it turns into exactly the symptom it is trying to cure: defensive knowingness." Throughout, Phillips advocates embracing human mystery and madness; there simply is no "King's English of the psyche." He makes his points while skimming along, leaving tidy punch-lines in his wake ("We may speak in words, but we don't dream in them;" "Knowing is not quite the same as getting the joke;" "Experts keep us on their best behavior.") Whether or not you're in analysis yourself, Terrors and Experts hits home; it's a lucid, striding, and very funny tour through the human soul. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Psychoanalysts, argues Phillips (On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored), must realize that psychic life will always be much more complicated than the explanations they impose on it; they must give up the authority over experience once granted them by our culture. The chapter entitled "Authorities'' uses letters between Freud and disciple Sandor Ferenczi to illustrate current critiques of analysts acting as father figures. Other chapters re-examine fundamental psychoanalytic concepts ("Fears,'' "Dreams,'' "Sexes'') and demonstrate how the analyst might utilize the patient's own beliefs about him- or herself in making sense of experience: we might all be "experts" if properly listened to. The chapter on "Symptoms'' presents material from the couch, allowing us to observe how Phillips's gentle interventions during therapy actually work. Although the book insistently draws out the theoretical and philosophical implications of its premises, it is lucid and will be comprehensible to those with a lay understanding of Freud's thinking. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
Seven wide-ranging essays on intrapsychic processes and the analytic relationship that are five parts scintillation, four parts intellectual irritation, and one part obscurity.

Phillips, a British psychoanalyst and author of On Flirtation and On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored (not reviewed), writes the way the psychoanalytic patient is urged to proceed: associatively, aware that the self is far more fluid, provisional, and sometimes perverse than rational discourse would have it. In writing about terror and experts (both refer more to the analyst than the patient), authorities, symptoms, fears, dreams, sexes (more about sexuality than gender) and mind, Phillips's underlying premise is that psychoanalysis needs "intelligent hostility," which he more than provides with an ironic, deconstructionist perspective on the analyst's craft. Phillips is an engagingly dialectical thinker, noting, for example, how and why our wanting love is inescapably coupled with a deep fear of abandonment. He can also be delightfully playful, for he feels, rightly, that psychoanalysts take themselves too seriously, adding, more dubiously, "They forget . . . that they are only telling stories about stories." His writing is replete with pithy, sometimes downright wonderful insights, as when he notes that "relationships are often constituted by what one dares not say to the other person." Yet nearly as often, Phillips uses a kind of extreme intellectual and rhetorical shorthand that will leave many readers baffled, e.g., his claim that "in psychoanalysis one can see very clearly how two people can sit in a room together and kill each other's pleasure: the aim of analysis is to understand how this happens, and to restore pleasure in each other's company."

Thus, this brief book is dense with both provocatively subversive and hopelessly murky musings. As such, it demands to be discussed and decoded as much as read.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674874800
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/25/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 132
  • Product dimensions: 0.28 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Phillips is Principal Child Psychotherapist in the Wolverton Gardens Child and Family Consultation Centre, London.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Preface

Terrors and Experts: An Introduction

1. Authorities

2. Symptoms

3. Fears

4. Dreams

5. Sexes

6. Minds

Bibliography

Index

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