I haven’t even got the courage of my lack of convictions

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment


SP You’ve contrasted your writing with your psychoanalytic practice. What is the relationship between the two?

AP I really don’t know. All I do know is that I do psychoanalysis four days a week and I write one day a week, in the middle. I know that the conversations I have with people have a very powerful effect on me. Psychoanalysis is really difficult; writing is not, for me.

In psychoanalysis, I’m dealing with resistances, often with very intractable things. In a way, the connection between the two things works by being indiscernible, by not being articulated or thought about very much. As you may have noticed, I don’t use clinical vignettes, because I think psychoanalysis is private. So when I do use them, either they’re minimal, anonymous, or I make them up. And I don’t find myself interested in topics, exactly. I’m more interested in the sentences, as they unfold, that are nominally about something.

I was very wary of the way in which the psychoanalytic profession secluded itself, made itself rather mandarin and elitist. So I wanted to be seen to be part of the cultural conversation, something not mysterious—I mean, life is mysterious—that in and of itself is a social practice that can be talked about.

SP Over time your writing has become more political, more pointed. Do you have hope for an impact in the cultural conversation or even public policy? Is there something that you’d like your books to do or change?

AP I’ve always been embarrassed by the self-importance of psychoanalysts talking about the world as if they were going to have some major influence on it. Back when I was trained, my supervisor said to me, completely seriously, “If only they had child psychotherapy in Northern Ireland, their troubles would have been over years ago.” Now, for me, this represents the absurdity and grandiosity of psychoanalysis. The people who actually have some effect on public opinion are business people and journalists, with politicians somewhere in the middle of those. I can only seriously ironize myself in relation to this. I think of the books as more like dream work than propaganda.

I don’t write for psychoanalysts but for people who are interested in a whole range of things. My wish, if I could design it, is that my books would in some indiscernible way evoke something in those who come across them. People wouldn’t come away thinking, Oh, Phillips’s theory of X is X. The reading experience would have a nonprogrammatic effect, but an effect.

SP Paul Holdengräber’s interview with you at the New York Public Library began with his observation that he could never actually remember anything that you write. Maybe it was a deliberate provocation, but that’s how I experience a lot of your work.

AP That’s the reading experience I’ve always loved. Certainly, when people say to me, as they often have done, “I can’t remember anything afterward,” I think, Great, that’s the point! The work is not there to be repeated or identified with, but something works on you.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Kohei Yoshiyuki

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