9. UNFORBIDDEN PLEASURES
The English psychoanalytical writer Adam Phillips has written with beguiling nuance about such variousness of our psychic experience as the importance of “fertile solitude,”the value of missing out, and the rewards of being out of balance. In Unforbidden Pleasures, he explores our paradoxical desires and the topsy-turvy ways we go about pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain.
In the collection’s standout essay, titled “Against Self-Criticism,” Phillips reaches across the space-time of culture to both revolt against and pay homage to Susan Sontag’s masterwork Against Interpretation, and examines “our virulent, predatory self-criticism [has] become one of our greatest pleasures.” He writes:
In broaching the possibility of being, in some way, against self-criticism, we have to imagine a world in which celebration is less suspect than criticism; in which the alternatives of celebration and criticism are seen as a determined narrowing of the repertoire; and in which we praise whatever we can.
But we have become so indoctrinated in this conscience of self-criticism, both collectively and individually, that we’ve grown reflexively suspicious of that alternative possibility. (Kafka, the great patron-martyr of self-criticism, captured this pathology perfectly: “There’s only one thing certain. That is one’s own inadequacy.”) Phillips writes:
Self-criticism, and the self as critical, are essential to our sense, our picture, of our so-called selves.
Nothing makes us more critical, more confounded — more suspicious, or appalled, or even mildly amused — than the suggestion that we should drop all this relentless criticism; that we should be less impressed by it. Or at least that self-criticism should cease to have the hold over us that it does.