No blinding insights here, but rather a scaffolding of Freudian interpretation that feels highly provisional when not...

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HOUDINI’S BOX

ON THE ARTS OF ESCAPE

Tentative explorations into what it means to escape, from noted British psychoanalyst Phillips (The Beast in the Nursery, 1998, etc.).

Using aspects of Houdini’s life as a kind of refrain, and layering the escape-artist’s chapters with episodes from his own psychoanalytic practice, Phillips makes glancing forays into the complex world of flight. Contradictory, too, but that’s not much of an excuse when Phillips himself appears hopelessly muddled by his research. “People often feel most alive when escaping,” the author observes, although it “is often linked to a sense of failure.” He often strikes a passive, reactive note (“what we want is born of what we want to get away from”), and even his active voice is more than slightly obscure (“what one is escaping from is inextricable from, if not defined by, what one is escaping to”). Although Phillips provides some provocative ideas on guilt and avoidance (“the imaginative activity involved in flight can blind us to any knowledge of quite what it is we are escaping from”) and on Houdini’s role as a respected outlaw (his popularizing “of the iconography of what we now call sadomasochism” and his “tapping into a market for torture”), his theses are compromised by notions that simply don’t hold. “Things are not frightening because they are real, they are real because they are frightening” is a case in point. So is his assertion that “the pornographer works to avert the death of desire” and his bizarre declaration that “in this simple event—dangling, chained upside down, over 150 feet up—the traditional erotic story joined forces with the new economic story: you can make it if you work, if you’ve got something unique to sell.” What’s traditional about being chained and hanging upside down while suspended 150 feet in the air?

No blinding insights here, but rather a scaffolding of Freudian interpretation that feels highly provisional when not downright rickety.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40636-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

OPEN BOOK

The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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