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Rycroft, C. (1995). On Flirtation by Adam Phillips. Published by Faber, London and Boston, 1994; 226 pages; £14.99.. Brit. J. Psychother., 11(4):630-632.

(1995). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 11(4):630-632

On Flirtation by Adam Phillips. Published by Faber, London and Boston, 1994; 226 pages; £14.99.

Review by:
Charles Rycroft

One of the present reviewer's recurrent whimsies has long been the idea that one day, when psychoanalysis has been forgotten by medicine and psychiatry, it will be found still to be alive and well in the English departments of, particularly, American universities. On Flirtation had me momentarily fearing that this might prove to be something more than a mere fancy.

The author, Adam Phillips, is indeed a literary critic turned psychotherapist, and his way of thinking, his style of writing, remains militantly ‘literary’, in both the good and bad senses of that word. If he were an architect, his buildings would be baroque, with fascinating, exuberant detail obscuring appreciation of their basic structure. He uses adjectives, adverbs and subordinate clauses not, as a ‘scientific’ writer would, to specify his meaning more precisely, but to allude to issues remote from what he is talking about; the effect is both scintillating and distracting.

I must give some examples. When Phillips writes ‘It was part of Freud's disingenuous rationalism to assert …,’ he momentarily induces the distracting thought ‘so Phillips thinks Freud's rationalism was not just naive but insincere’. When he writes ‘Kristeva writes with beguiling confidence “analytic cure can implement a genuine graft of symbolic potential”’, one is diverted from elucidating Kristeva's meaning - how are grafts of potential implemented? - by having to wonder why Kristeva's statement is noteworthily confident, and why her confidence is beguiling.

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