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Grundy, D. (1999). A Review of The Beast in the Nursery: Adam Phillips. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. xxii + 165 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(1):153-158.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(1):153-158

The Sins of Development: Adam's Gospel

A Review of The Beast in the Nursery: Adam Phillips. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. xxii + 165 pp.

Review by:
Dominick Grundy, Ph.D.

PROBABLY NO ONE who writes on psychoanalysis today in English has as much subtlety and sheer ardor for writing as Adam Phillips. In his hands, psychoanalytic discourse has so much become the literary essay that when he reads a paper or talks to a professional audience, someone is always heard to mumble, “Yes, but does he believe that? If so, how can he practice?” The problem of belief, of what one holds to and prizes apart from the words framing that belief, apart from the context that formed that belief, is rather tricky today. Postmodernism does not give much credence to belief, or at least, not in the way we used to believe certain truths to be self-evident. Postmodernism calls us believing animals, which is tantamount to saying that where we're concerned, everything we might be inclined to live and die for is a story, a plot. There is no reason for this fiction not to include psychoanalysis, although writers like Phillips use psychoanalysis to explain that this is the way we are. As he said in an earlier book (1993), “The psychoanalytic question becomes not, Is that true? but What in your personal history disposes you to believe that? And that, of course, could be psychoanalytic theory” (p. 112). To quote Phillips, rounding the home stretch of his latest book, “There is no unconscious that one can get closer to; there are just ways of talking that make us feel more or less hopeful” (p. 151).

Reducing The Beast in the Nursery to a straightforward narrative line would require a degree of brutal imposition. The book is a kind of brief filed on behalf of the child—a stereotype child perhaps—against what might broadly be called the developmental trend in psychology and the psychologizing trend in culture. “You must lose interest in order to find it; this is the gospel of development.

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