Joan Acocella, writing in The New Yorker, described Adam Phillips as “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer” , and John Banville wrote he is “one of the finest prose stylists in the language, an Emerson of our time. Reading briefly about the man, it appears that he has a sensible attitude to his own business of psychoanalysis, considering it to be only one of any number of tools to use in order to live, possibly better than one lived before. The other tools range from sky diving to dough making and I have the faintest suspicion that his very successful business in seeing clients is more about his curiosity than anything else. What I am trying to say is that I like his style, his ability to say from the beginning there are no answers to the questions we don’t know how to ask. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having a little look around. What else are you going to do? Walk the dog – fine, that will be as worthwhile an occupation, but if the other is start a war, or self harm, then diving into the psyche may be worth the energy. I digress, but then digression according to Phillipps “is secular revelation.” Anyways, I was reading an article from the Paris Review which was made up of an interview compiled over a couple of years, and I was taken with some of his considerations about reading. Below are a couple of extracts from the interview,
Fortunately, I never recovered from my education, I’ve just carried on with it. If you happen to like reading, it can have a very powerful effect on you, an evocative effect, at least on me. It’s not as though when I read I’m gathering information, or indeed can remember much of what I read. I know the books that grip me, as everybody does, but their effect is indiscernible. I don’t quite know what it is. The Leavisite position, more or less, is that reading certain sentences makes you more alive and a morally better person, and that those two things go together. It seems to me that that isn’t necessarily so, but what is clear is that there are powerful unconscious evocative effects in reading books that one loves. There’s something about these books that we want to go on thinking about, that matters to us. They’re not just fetishes that we use to fill gaps. They are like recurring dreams we can’t help thinking about.”
“……..That idea was one of Winnicott’s most radical, because what he was saying was that solitude was prior to the wish to transgress. That there’s something deeply important about the early experience of being in the presence of somebody without being impinged upon by their demands, and without them needing you to make a demand on them. And that this
creates a space internally into which one can be absorbed. In order to be absorbed one has to feel sufficiently safe, as though there is some shield, or somebody guarding you against dangers such that you can “forget yourself ” and absorb yourself, in a book, say. Or, for the child, in a game. It must be one of the precursors of reading, I suppose. I think
for Winnicott it would be the definition of a good relationship if, in the relationship, you would be free to be absorbed in something else.”
……..An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves.”
So now I have to go and discover Winnicott. I love how reading does that – promotes the next interest to discover. When I went to school we had a caretaker, Mr Jones, who manned the tuck shop and dealt with the onslaught of teams of hungry, raucous female teens. Sounds ideal job for a bloke, but hey, I know different. Anway he had a cardboard sign that would change daily with a thought for the day. The one I remember seeing most was ‘Eat to live, do not live to eat’. I will change that one to ‘Read to live, do not live to read.’ What did Phillipps say about digression?
2 thoughts on “Read to live, do not live to read.”
Thank you for another deeply insightful essay. I copied it into a document, but i entitled it with the statement that most touched me, “Digression is Secular Revelation.” I am constantly guilty of digression in conversation. “Off on another tangent,” that’s me. I think that I am naturally inclined to inductive reasoning, and that is what sparks my creative side. It works better for me in my head, of course. I often get sidetracked in conversation, much to the annoyance of others. I have tried to become a more thoughtful conversationalist over the years, but it is something I must keep constantly in mind. It was so refreshing to read your article and be affirmed that digression is not always a negative thing. Your writing always makes me think in new ways. Thank you again for sharing your gift with words, which you always pair with beautiful images. You have such a keen sense of making literature and art two fast friends walking hand in hand. Cheers, Janet
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What a lovely response! Thanks Janet, it means alot to me!! My family are constantly reminding me about how I jump from one thing to another ,seemingly random. I know they love me though.