THE BEAST IN THE NURSERY by Adam Phillips

THE BEAST IN THE NURSERY

On Curiosity and Other Appetites

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In four well-crafted essays, English psychotherapist Phillips again shows that he is to Freudian and post-Freudian psychoanalysis what Stephen Jay Gould is to paleontology and what the late Lewis Thomas was to molecular biology: a scientist of great depth who can write engagingly for the humanist reader. The prolific Phillips (Terror and Experts, 1996, etc.) here deals with the ever-inconclusive struggle between human curiosity, imagination, and the quest for personal gratification (the ``beast,'' or what Freud called the ``pleasure principle'') on the one hand, and the societal focus on order, rules, and conformity to existing moral norms (the ``nursery,'' or ``reality principle'') on the other. While some psychologists drive home an argument, Phillips is an associative writer, drawing on literary as much as psychological texts, and nimbly dancing around his topics, viewing them from many angles. For example, in a wonderful piece entitled ``Just Rage'' (the ``just,'' of course, packs a double meaning), he links fury to one's ideals and their betrayal, the desire for revenge, the humiliation of being unimportant in others' eyes, adaptation to a parent's wishes and values, and the need to express a self-sustaining narcissism. Phillips's book is filled with piquant language, as in his observation that psychoanalysis necessarily involves ``the high art of disillusionment'' (``the modern mythology of enlightened frustration, the comforting ironization of desire'') and that what analysts ``do everyday [is] find useful descriptions of humiliation.'' Perhaps not coincidentally, his most stimulating essay is entitled ``A Stab at Hinting,'' wherein Phillips writes of both the creative and the psychological significance of the hesitant attempt at revelation that he calls a ``hint'' (e.g., a gesture, slip of the tongue, or dream). His own writing is full of such ``hints,'' which sometimes make the direction of his prose difficult to follow, yet which far more often are highly imaginative, richly evocative, and deeply rewarding.

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-40049-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997




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