Adam Phillips On Balance

ISBN 13: 9780312610746

On Balance

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9780312610746: On Balance

Every day, we are told that balance is a good thing. We are supposed to make balanced judgments, balance our budget, and preserve a balance of power in our government. Disturbed people are described as unbalanced. In this insightful, charming book, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips looks afresh at balance (and its shadow, excess) and asks if achieving the former is such an admirable goal. From this perspective, Phillips examines the explosive topics of money, sex, parenthood, faith, and education. In his exhilarating and casually brilliant explorations of case studies, fairy tales, works of art, and literature, the paradoxes inherent in our appetites and fears are revealed.

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About the Author:

Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and and a visiting professor in the English department at the University of York. He is the author of many acclaimed books, including On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored; Going Sane; and On Kindness (with Barbara Taylor).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Five Short Talks on Excess* It is very stretchy.Kay Ryan, ‘The Fabric of Life’
I In ExcessNothing makes people more excessive than talking about excess. We tend to become either extremely disapproving or unusually enthusiastic and excited about the most recently reported celebrity orgy, or managing director’s pay rise. No one can be indifferent to binge drinking, or the amount of pornography on the internet; everyone knows someone now who has a so-called eating disorder, and everyone knows about the huge numbers of people in the world who are starving. Excess is everywhere now – excesses of wealth and of poverty, of sex and greed, of violence and of religious belief. If the twentieth century was, in the title of historian Eric Hobsbawm’s book, The Age of Extremes, then the twenty-first century looks like being the Age of Excess. When people are being extreme they push things to their limits; when they are being excessive they push things beyond their limits.I want here to explore our fear and loathing, our fascination and craving for excess in all its forms. And I want to bear in mind something very strange about excess, something best pictured perhaps by the extraordinary consumerism of Western societies, or by the religious and anti-religious fanaticism in contemporary culture; and that is that excess is contagious. Nothing makes people more excessive than talking about excess.Like a lot of the words we use very easily, ‘excess’ is older than we imagine. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest, most literal meaning of ‘the action of going out or forth’ to the fifteenth century; ‘excess’, in its original use, being the opposite of ‘access’. And this, too, I think is something we should bear in mind: access, if you like, is the freedom to go in; excess is the freedom to go out. But when we are excessive what are we going out from?Here, again, the dictionary can help us, and this time into more familiar territory: when we are excessive we ‘depart from custom [or] reason’, we ‘overstep’ limits, we go beyond our ‘rights’; we are involved in what the dictionary calls ‘extravagant violation of law, decency or morality’, we are guilty of ‘outrageous conduct’. When we are excessive, in whatever way, we depart from what is considered appropriate behaviour; we go out from, we abandon, the version of ourselves we are supposed to be. And where do we get our standards of appropriate behaviour, our pictures of ourselves as we are supposed to be? From the societies we grow up in. Excess, the dictionary reminds us, is not simply the violation of law, decency or morality, it is the ‘extravagant violation of law, decency or morality’. So excess covers a whole gamut of experiences from exaggeration to breaking the law, from boasting to genocide. The anorexic and the suicide bomber, the attention-seeking child and the compulsive gambler, the person who has more money than he needs and the person committed to celibacy are all involved, in their different ways, in extravagant violations of law, decency or morality; even though, of course, they may not see it this way. And this, too, is important when we are thinking about excess: what is excessive to one person may be to another person just an ordinary way of life. The devoutly religious are not, in their own view, over-doing it; terrorists are not, in their view, overreacting to the injustices they feel they have suffered. Indeed, one of the ways of describing many of our personal and political and religious conflicts is that someone is trying to persuade someone else that they are being excessive: excessively cruel, excessively disrespectful, excessively unjust. So we need to remember just how much can hang on our definitions of excess. I want to consider here what might make us feel, in any given situation, that someone is being excessive; and what, when we feel people are being excessive, we want to do about it. Our knee-jerk reaction is often to want to punish them, and often excessively. And yet people usually punish each other when they don’t know what else to do; which is why punishment is so often beside the point, an excited failure of imagination. Punishment is despair about the rules, not their enforcement. So it isn’t just that excess is contagious, but that other people’s excess permits us, or even frees us, to be excessive ourselves. Our reactions to other people’s excesses – of violence, of appetite, of belief – are, as we shall see, extremely revealing. ‘All truths,’ the philosopher Alain Badiou writes, ‘are woven from extreme consequences.’ There are also truths woven from excessive consequences.But perhaps one thing we shouldn’t lose sight of is just how reassuring the whole idea of excess can be; when we are not permitted to take excess baggage on the plane it is because somebody is keeping an eye on our safety, somebody knows how much the plane can take. In other words, what is reassuring about the idea of excess – about our being able to think that someone is being excessive – is that it implies that we know our limits, that we have a sure sense of the proper way to behave, that we know what is appropriate and right. Every time we have the moralistic version of the excess experience – the righteous indignation, or rage, or grief about the transgressions of other people – we relocate ourselves, firmly and safely, within the rules, the protective walls, of our societies. In these moments we are reminded of how the world should be, and that someone who knows the rules and can enforce them is looking after us. The child who has a tantrum is trying to find out if his parents are robust, whether they can withstand his hatred and rage and frustration. In this instance excessive behaviour is an opportunity for the parents to remind themselves, or for society to remind itself, of established rules and regulations. It reassures us to see that we clearly know what the rules are because we are outraged when they are broken.If we are so good at spotting excessive behaviour when we see it – excessive eating, excessive sex, excessive shopping, the excessive beliefs of religious fanatics – then we must know, or think we know, what just the right amount of these things is. If we can recognize greed when we see it, we must know how people should eat; if we can be appalled by the sexual excesses reported in the tabloids, we must know what kind of sex people should be having, and how often they should be having it; if we are full of righteous indignation about people we think of as ‘religious fanatics’, we must surely have very strong ideas about how much people should believe things, about what people should believe in and what their beliefs should drive them to do. But what is the right amount of belief? How do we know when someone’s grief is excessive? Perhaps when it makes us feel something more excessive than we would like to feel?There is an obvious irony here: many of the things that matter most to us – like love, or grief, or appetite, or violence, or political and religious belief – cannot be measured; and yet one of the things we are most alert to, one of the things we speak about with the most passionate conviction, is when we feel these things have become excessive. It is as if we have our own internal measure of these things that can’t be quantified; and this internal measure is one of the most important things about us. How could we live without a sense of what is excessive? Indeed, as I have said, is it not striking how excessive we can be in our reactions to other people’s excesses? Nothing makes us more excessive than excess; nothing makes us more disapproving, disgusted, punitive – not to mention fascinated, exhilarated and amazed – than other people’s extravagant appetite for food, or alcohol, or money, or drugs, or violence; nothing makes us more frightened, more furious, more despairing than other people’s extreme commitment to political ideals or religious beliefs. It is, one should notice, almost always other people who are being excessive in their belief, not oneself. ‘One is never, in any way whatever, overwhelmed by another person’s excesses,’ the French psycho analyst Jacques Lacan once said, ‘one is only and always overwhelmed because their excesses happen to coincide with your own.’ From a psychoanalytic point of view other people’s excesses disturb us, get us worked up, because they reveal something important to us about ourselves; about our own fears and longings. Indeed, other people’s excesses might reveal to us, at its most minimal, that we are, or have become, the excessive animals; the animals for whom excessive behaviour is the rule rather than the exception (there are laws of human nature, but not for us). You only have to read the newspapers to realize that this is a plausible possibility. Our excesses may be in excess of our capacity to understand and to regulate. And if we have become the excessive animals we may have to do more than merely aspire not to be.When Lacan suggests that we are only overwhelmed by other people’s excesses because they are the same as our own he is not simply saying, for example, that our horror about drug addiction means that we are secretly tempted or prone to become drug addicts; but that drug addiction may be a picture, say, of how fearful we might be generally of our own dependence, how terrified we are of becoming enslaved to the people we need. And drug addiction can also be a picture of how tempted we are to try to become everything that the person we love needs; to become, in a way, their drug of choice. In other words, Lacan’s point is that our reaction to other people’s excesses is an important clue to something vital ab...

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Descrizione libro Picador USA, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Every day, we are told that balance is a good thing. We are supposed to make balanced judgments, balance our budget, and preserve a balance of power in our government. Disturbed people are described as unbalanced. In this insightful, charming book, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips looks afresh at balance (and its shadow, excess) and asks if achieving the former is such an admirable goal. From this perspective, Phillips examines the explosive topics of money, sex, parenthood, faith, and education. In his exhilarating and casually brilliant explorations of case studies, fairy tales, works of art, and literature, the paradoxes inherent in our appetites and fears are revealed. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780312610746

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Descrizione libro Picador USA, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Every day, we are told that balance is a good thing. We are supposed to make balanced judgments, balance our budget, and preserve a balance of power in our government. Disturbed people are described as unbalanced. In this insightful, charming book, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips looks afresh at balance (and its shadow, excess) and asks if achieving the former is such an admirable goal. From this perspective, Phillips examines the explosive topics of money, sex, parenthood, faith, and education. In his exhilarating and casually brilliant explorations of case studies, fairy tales, works of art, and literature, the paradoxes inherent in our appetites and fears are revealed. Codice libro della libreria BZE9780312610746

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Descrizione libro Picador. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. 336 pages. Dimensions: 8.1in. x 5.4in. x 1.1in.Every day, we are told that balance is a good thing. We are supposed to make balanced judgments, balance our budget, and preserve a balance of power in our government. Disturbed people are described as unbalanced. In this insightful, charming book, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips looks afresh at balance (and its shadow, excess) and asks if achieving the former is such an admirable goal. From this perspective, Phillips examines the explosive topics of money, sex, parenthood, faith, and education. In his exhilarating and casually brilliant explorations of case studies, fairy tales, works of art, and literature, the paradoxes inherent in our appetites and fears are revealed. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Codice libro della libreria 9780312610746

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