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Cavell, M. (1998). Terrors and Experts. By Adam Phillips. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996, xvii + 110 pp., $19.95. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(3):953-958.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(3):953-958

PSYCHOANALYSIS AND PHILOSOPHY

Terrors and Experts. By Adam Phillips. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996, xvii + 110 pp., $19.95

Review by:
Marcia Cavell

In Beckett's Endgame, Hamm says to Nagg, “Use your head, can't you, use your head, you're on earth, there's no cure for that!” One reading suggests that human life is an illness for which there is no remedy; it hurts, and it's terminal. Another reading hints, a little more optimistically, that though the living of a human life is a hurt for which there is no cure, it may not be an illness, and there may be things to do about the hurting, one of which is to stop looking for a cure. Adam Phillips's provocative and maddening new book, Terrors and Experts, is a meditation on what kinds of earthly pain, if any, psychoanalysis can cure, and what sort of “cure” it is.

Something like these questions, together with a few complaints about the Freudian view, motivated the turn toward existential psychoanalysis that Karl Jaspers took many years ago, joined later, via Heidegger, by Binswanger and Sartre. These last two agreed with Freud that childhood events are part of the mise-en-scène of adult mental life, but they took issue with Freud's determinism and his idea of the human self as an empirical entity or structure on a par with other entities in the material world. What Freud ignored, they thought, was our nature as creatures who mean and intend and who, through acts of choice that are intrinsic to intentionality, are continually making our very selves by what we mean and do. A fundamental kind of anxiety is rooted not, as Freud thought, in some repressed past but in our awareness that the future is unpredictable, that our lives are in our hands, that we have an ever diminishing future in which to live them and no authorities on whom to call. Contingency, Choice, Time. Nietzsche called it “the death of God.” For Heidegger, anxiety is the wake-up call to authenticity, the alarm which to our peril we try to suppress.

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