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Phillips, A. (2009). On Getting Away With It. Psychoanal. Dial., 19(1):98-103.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 19(1):98-103

On Getting Away With It

Adam Phillips


If guilt is the psychoanalytic word for not getting away with it, what is the psychoanalytic word for getting away with it. In the psychoanalytic story, people are ambivalent and transgressive, whatever else they are; and these predispositions raise, by implication, the issue of getting away with something, of avoiding what are deemed to be the inevitable consequences of certain actions. So it needs to be said right at the start that if the human subject, as described by psychoanalysis, is a split subject, in conflict, by definition, with himself and others, then getting away with it—harming those you love, desiring forbidden objects, letting yourself and others down, sacrificing your desire—is not an option. There is no truthful, no realistic, description in the language of psychoanalysis, for getting away with it. And yet, of course, psychoanalysis also urges us to take our wishes seriously, to read them as disguised formulations of unconscious desire. And there is perhaps no stronger wish—beginning, of course, in childhood—than the wish to get away with things. It is worth wondering what the wish to get away with it is a wish for; and of course it may be different in each instance.

One of the most interesting things about wishful fantasies and the narratives they provide is where they stop; of course, they couldn't include all the possible consequences of the gratified wish, but they are often surprisingly abbreviated; curtailed all too soon, as if to say, “Where will it all end?” In the wishful fantasies of getting away with the prohibited thing we seem to know about the experience we won't have, the experience avoided by the act of getting away with it.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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