In Praise of the Unlived Life
By Adam Phillips
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374281113, 224pp.)
Publication Date: January 22, 2013
A transformative book about the lives we wish we had and what they can teach us about who we are
All of us lead two parallel lives: the one we are actively living, and the one we feel we should have had or might yet have. As hard as we try to exist in the moment, the unlived life is an inescapable presence, a shadow at our heels. And this itself can become the story of our lives: an elegy to unmet needs and sacrificed desires. We become haunted by the myth of our own potential, of what we have in ourselves to be or to do. And this can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short.
But what happens if we remove the idea of failure from the equation? With his flair for graceful paradox, the acclaimed psychoanalyst Adam Phillips suggests that if we accept frustration as a way of outlining what we really want, satisfaction suddenly becomes possible. To crave a life without frustration is to crave a life without the potential to identify and accomplish our desires.
In this elegant, compassionate, and absorbing book, Phillips draws deeply on his own clinical experience as well as on the works of Shakespeare and Freud, of D. W. Winnicott and William James, to suggest that frustration, not getting it, and and getting away with it are all chapters in our unlived lives—and may be essential to the one fully lived.
Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and a visiting professor in the English department at the University of York. He is the author of many books, including On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; Going Sane; Side Effects; and On Balance. He is also the coauthor, with the historian Barbara Taylor, of On Kindness; with the critic Leo Bersani, of Intimacies; and with the exhibition-maker Judith Clark, of The Concise Dictionary of Dress.