Missing out

Posted on | November 10, 2013 | 1 Comment

Notes from Adam Philips (2012) Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York

We make our lives pleasurable, and therefore bearable, by picturing them as they might be; it is less obvious, though, what these compelling fantasy lives – lives of, as it were, a more complete satisfaction – are a self-cure for. Our solutions tell us what our problems are; our fantasy lives are not – or not necessarily – alternatives to, or refuges from, those real lives but an essential part of them (xvii)

So we may need to think of ourselves as always living a double life, the one that we wish for and the one that we practice; the one that never happens and the one that keeps happening (xvii)

Knowing other people, in psychoanalytic language, can be a defence, the defence, against acknowledging their actual existence, and what we need their existence for (74)

Psychoanalysis, as a treatment, is an opportunity to recover the freedom not to know or be known, and so to find out what people might do together instead. One of its aims, one disclaimed by Freud, was to reseparate sex from knowing (75)

…you can know a person but the one thing you cannot, in any real sense, know is their sexuality; partly because they do not know about it themselves; and partly because it is not the kind of thing that can be known (it isn’t information) (76)

…insofar as we can accept people… as sexual we have to concede that knowing them in any conscious way may not be the best, the most promising, thing we can do with them. We may know what food they like, their favourite colour, their artistic tastes and distastes, and these are things we can know. But it amounts… to very little; in fact, what all this knowledge of people discloses is how little knowing can do for us, and, indeed how anguished other people make us (77)

[…as Proust wants to persuade us] this wish to know is more pernicious, less clueless… what one wants to know about the other, unconsciously, is what will cure us of our desire for them (77)

Not knowing someone, not getting it, then becomes integral to the project of sustaining desire (78)

Can we learn how not to know, as well as how to know, and what could be the benefit that might accrue from this? Or, in which area of our lives does not knowing, not getting it, give us more life rather than more deadness? (80)

…getting out of things is all too easily a form of spurious omniscience. It is as though when we get out of something we know too much: we act as if we know far more than we could – about what would happen if we stayed. That in order to free ourselves from certain things we have to fake an omniscience about the future; and acknowledging this need not be a (masochistic) counsel to endure oppression, but another way of thinking out alternatives. Sometimes, perhaps more often than we realize, we live as if we know more about the experiences we don’t have than about the experiences we do have. And sometimes we need to be able to do this in order to free ourselves (114)

My supposition is that sometimes – perhaps more often than not – we think we know more about the experiences we don’t have than about the experiences that we do have, ‘frustration’ being our word for the experience of not having an experience (117)

…the satisfaction has already happened in fantasy. So, at least unconsciously, there is nothing about which we are more certain than the nature of our satisfactions; or, to put it another way, Freud describes how much work we do to ensure that our satisfaction is no surprise. And this leaves us with a paradox, which has to take the form of a question: when you already know what satisfaction is, how can you possibly find out what it is like? (139)

Fantasy is the medium in which we jump to conclusions. And the conclusions we jump to are about satisfaction, and are themselves satisfying. Imagining satisfaction is a way of not thinking about wanting, not thinking about the experience of wanting (140)

The something about wanting that is unbearable is transformed into the something about being satisfied that works. We need pictures of satisfaction to make bearable, to make plausible, to make attractive, to make viable, our desiring. They are like adverts for desiring. How strange this is; the ways in which fantasy at once blackmails or seduces or lures us into going through with our wanting and at the same time pre-empts our going through with it; that we have to do this to ourselves, as though we are at best resistant and at worst phobic of wanting, of acknowledging our wants. We have to be attentive, in other words, to what we use fantasy to do; whether it becomes, as we say, an end in itself (141)

It is worth wondering what happens to our erotic life, or to our sociability with each other and ourselves, when certainty becomes our picture of satisfaction. And what happens to our satisfaction, to our possibilities for satisfaction, when it does (145)

How do you know what your desire is? It is that which makes you feel guilty when you betray it; not when you betray someone else, but when you betray yourself; indeed, for Lacan self-betrayal, the self-betrayal of giving up one’s desire, is the source of guilt. We suffer from failures of ruthlessness (147)

The ways we cure ourselves of frustration are the ways we cure ourselves of satisfaction. And the ways we cure ourselves of satisfaction are through too knowing, too efficient pictures of satisfaction. We use satisfactions to cheat us of our satisfactions. …Whatever else he has done Freud has exposed our avoidance of love as an avoidance of satisfaction. We need, as he suggested, to have better – more interesting, more enlivening, more satisfying – conversations about our frustrations (168)


One Response to “Missing out”

  1. Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends : home cooked theory
    December 4th, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

    […] for the necessary projections, fantasies and displacements that ease the here and now. But as Adam Philips shows, we avoid acknowledging these wishes at our peril. Fantasy’s function is to stand in for the […]

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