Book Review: On Getting Better – Adam Phillips  


Posted 4 months ago in Book Review

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On Getting Better

Adam Phillips  

Penguin

“In On Getting Better, as in his other works, Phillips both kindles optimism and chastens it. He is, as psychoanalysts tend to be, both attuned to human possibility and acutely aware of our inevitable frustrations.” – Luke Warde

Psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips’ latest short collection follows his recent On Wanting to Change, to which it is a sequel.

As anybody familiar with his other works will know, his essays are remarkable in how they refrain from putting forward discrete positions, arguments or conclusions. Remaining faithful to the psychoanalytic method more broadly, Phillips instead favours the radically open-ended and free-associative. Yes, he can be convoluted, but the effect – as he teases out the profound from the banal – is exhilarating.

As a phrase, to ‘get better’ is a case in point. What do we mean by it? We can mean many things, of course, and that’s what’s interesting. We can recover from an illness – be cured, in other words – and thereby ‘get better’; we can also improve our ability at football or the piano, and thus ‘get better’. Fundamentally, Phillips writes, ‘we can’t imagine our lives without the wish to improve them’. This is ‘the private utopianism of everyday life’.

In On Getting Better, as in his other works, Phillips both kindles optimism and chastens it. He is, as psychoanalysts tend to be, both attuned to human possibility and acutely aware of our inevitable frustrations. Everything is always two-sided, ambivalent. ‘We are as much entranced and disarmed as inspired by our opportunities.’

We could say the same about Phillips’ own writings.

Words: Luke Warde

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