Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life by Allen Shawn, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

by Allen Shawn
     
 

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In addition to being the son of famous New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of the distinguished playwright and actor Wallace Shawn, Allen Shawn is agoraphobic-he is afraid of both public spaces and isolation. Wish I Could Be There gracefully captures both of these extraordinary realities, blending memoir and scientific inquiry in an utterly

Overview

In addition to being the son of famous New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of the distinguished playwright and actor Wallace Shawn, Allen Shawn is agoraphobic-he is afraid of both public spaces and isolation. Wish I Could Be There gracefully captures both of these extraordinary realities, blending memoir and scientific inquiry in an utterly engrossing quest to understand the mysteries of the human mind. Droll, probing, and honest, Shawn explores the many ways we all become who we are, whether through upbringing, genes, or our own choices, creating "an eloquent meditation upon the mysteries of personality and family"* and the struggle to face one's demons.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A harrowing, essential book about the force of fear gone wild in one person's mind and body."
-Chicago Tribune

"Remarkable. A brave, eccentric, and utterly compelling book that's as revelatory and candid as anything ever written by Joan Didion, and as humane and scientifically fascinating as any one of Oliver Sacks's case studies."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times*

"A vividly written combination of memoir and scientific inquiry."
-The New Yorker

Though not a thriller, Wish I Could Be There is, nonetheless, a study in terror -- specifically, the terror of agoraphobia that has derailed the life of author/composer Allan Shawn. In this memoir, the son of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn seeks explanations for his crippling panic in the annals of neuroscience and psychology and in his complicated family history. He weighs the impact of his father's four-decades-long extramarital affair, his mother's overprotectiveness, the institutionalizing of his autistic twin sister, and a family dynamic steeped in secrecy, repression, and denial; yet he is remarkably generous in judgment. Fascinating, unflinchingly honest, and conspicuous for its absence of rage, blame, or self-pity, this is navel-gazing at its best.
The New Yorker
Shawn, a composer and professor of music, probes the causes of his long struggle with agoraphobia—a fear of certain spaces which makes it difficult to “move forward in the world without knowing already what lies ahead”—in this vividly written combination of memoir and scientific inquiry. Approaching his phobia from Freudian, genetic, and neurological perspectives, Shawn, the son of a former editor of this magazine, analyzes the impact of coping with an autistic twin sister, who was institutionalized at the age of eight. He also lovingly and honestly traces phobic tendencies in his parents, who glossed over their daughter’s condition and adopted “an across-the-board policy of secrecy” in front of their remaining children. Shawn is highly attuned to the complexity of phobias’ causes and their manifestations, and views his own affliction as in many ways beneficial: “At those moments when we are in the grip of an inner force, perhaps something important is being revealed.”
Chicago Tribune
A harrowing, essential book about the force of fear gone wild in one person's mind and body.
Michiko Kakutani
In probing the consequences and possible causes of his phobias, Mr. Shawn has written a brave, eccentric and utterly compelling book that’s as revelatory and candid as anything ever written by Joan Didion, and as humane and scientifically fascinating as any one of Oliver Sacks’s case studies.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The author's rampant agoraphobia and compensatory claustrophobia leave him terrified of almost any unfamiliar space, including highways, fields, elevators, bridges, tunnels, heights and airplanes; a walk down a country lane leaves him panting and paralyzed with fear. In this absorbing memoir, Shawn a composer, son of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of actor Wallace Shawn approaches his panics from several angles. He explores the neurophysiology of phobic fear as an exaggerated, partly hereditary version of the innate human response to environmental threats. But he also offers a heavily Freudian account of his own panics, linking them to his parents' overprotectiveness and the resulting psychosexual and oedipal conflicts he suppressed from childhood onward. The latter perspective informs his vivid portraits of his family life; his brilliant, conflicted father, who suffered from similar phobias; and his autistic twin sister. Drawing on the writings of fellow agoraphobes like Emily Dickinson and Blaise Pascal, Shawn makes his fear of vast, exposed spaces a metaphor for humanity's existential predicament, an inchoate realization that "our brief life span is surrounded on all sides by nothingness." The result is both a lucid explication of psychopathology and a deeply felt evocation of a "pain in the soul." (Feb. 7) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143113072
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/29/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
752,491
Product dimensions:
7.72(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.51(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A harrowing, essential book about the force of fear gone wild in one person's mind and body."
-Chicago Tribune

"Remarkable. A brave, eccentric, and utterly compelling book that's as revelatory and candid as anything ever written by Joan Didion, and as humane and scientifically fascinating as any one of Oliver Sacks's case studies."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times*

"A vividly written combination of memoir and scientific inquiry."
-The New Yorker

Meet the Author

Allen Shawn is on the faculty at Bennington College in Vermont. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.

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