People tend to flirt only with serious things--madness, disaster, other people's affections. So is flirtation dangerous, exploiting the ambiguity of promises to sabotage our cherished notions of commitment? Or is it, as Adam Phillips suggests, a productive pleasure, keeping things in play, letting us get to know them in different ways, allowing us the fascination of what is unconvincing? This is a book about the possibilities of flirtation, its risks and instructive amusements--about the spaces flirtation opens in the stories we tell ourselves, particularly within the framework of psychoanalysis.
Phillips looks at life as a tale to be told but rejects the idea of a master plot. Instead, he says, we should be open to the contingent, and flirtation shows us the way. His book observes children flirting with their parents, our various selves flirting with one another, and literature flirting with psychoanalysis. As Phillips explores the links between literature and psychoanalysis--ranging from Philip Roth to Isaac Rosenberg, Karl Kraus to John Clare--psychoanalysis emerges as a multi-authored autobiography. Its subjects are love, loss, and memory; its authors are the analyst and the analysand, as well as the several selves brought to life in the process. A passionate and delightfully playful defense of the virtues of being uncommitted, On Flirtation sets before us the virtue of a yet deeper commitment to the openendedness of our life stories.
[Phillips'] writing is strong and lucid...[He] writes of his work with child and adult patients in the moving and exciting way that marked the clinical writings of D.W. Winnicott and the early works of M. Masud R. Khan.
In Phillipstour de force.
[These] essays are intellectual flirtations that use the wiles of paradox to tease us into liberating ourselves from the old stories, to make us accept the madcap contingency of our lives...On Flirtation is everything Phillips says psychoanalytic writing should be--a pleasure rather than a misery to read, "a kind of practical poetry."
Adam Phillips' On Flirtation is less a study of the psychology of coquetry than it is a delightful glimpse into the pleasures of uncertainty. Flirtation is Phillips' metaphor for playing with stimulating ideas so that we can explore anew their complexity without fear of adhering to stultifying orthodoxy or succumbing to overearnestness...On Flirtation will be fascinating to all those who wish to restore the importance of contingency in human life and who, committed to open psychoanalytic inquiry, realize that not everything can be neatly understood or mastered...Given Phillips' subtle mind, appreciation of complexity, tolerance of conflicting views, rejection of traditional forms of closure, and epigrammatic style, it is no accident that he has written a superb book.
In three superb books, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; On Flirtation; and Terrors and Experts...[Phillips] has endorsed pleasure as a laudable goal (imagine!) and enshrined narrative as a form of soul making. In the process, he's punched lovely skylights into the gloomy Freudian edifice and in general done much to rehabilitate the psychoanalytic enterprise by honoring the idiosyncrasy of human experience and by wielding method lightly, playfully, humanely.
Phillips writes as a "flirt"--in the special sense he defines in his opening essay--but how much richer his book is for that. Before next going into print, the envious rivals and embittered former lovers who nowadays cluster around Freud's name should all report to Phillips for a lesson in flirtation.
- 256 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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