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Interesting perspective - on therapy and knowing onself


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Wow! Is it just me not knowing or is this really an original way to view therapy?



Analysis should do two things that are linked together. It should be about the recovery of appetite, and the need not to know yourself. And these two things— 


The need not to know yourself? 


The need not to know yourself. Symptoms are forms of self-knowledge. When you think, I’m agoraphobic, I’m a shy person, whatever it may be, these are forms of self-knowledge. What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself. Because the point of knowing oneself is to contain one’s anxieties about appetite. It’s only worth knowing about the things that make one’s life worth living, and whether there are in fact things that make it worth living. 

I was a child psychotherapist for most of my professional life. One of the things that is interesting about children is how much appetite they have. How much appetite they have—but also how conflicted they can be about their appetites. Anybody who’s got young children, or has had them, or was once a young child, will remember that children are incredibly picky about their food. They can go through periods where they will only have an orange peeled in a certain way. Or milk in a certain cup.


And what does that mean?


Well, it means different things for different children. One of the things it means is there’s something very frightening about one’s appetite. So that one is trying to contain a voraciousness in a very specific, limiting, narrowed way. It’s as though, were the child not to have the milk in that cup, it would be a catastrophe. And the child is right. It would be a catastrophe, because that specific way, that habit, contains what is felt to be a very fearful appetite. An appetite is fearful because it connects you with the world in very unpredictable ways. Winnicott says somewhere that health is much more difficult to deal with than disease. And he’s right, I think, in the sense that everybody is dealing with how much of their own aliveness they can bear and how much they need to anesthetize themselves. 

We all have self-cures for strong feeling. Then the self-cure becomes a problem, in the obvious sense that the problem of the alcoholic is not alcohol but sobriety. Drinking becomes a problem, but actually the problem is what’s being cured by the alcohol. By the time we’re adults, we’ve all become alcoholics. That’s to say, we’ve all evolved ways of deadening certain feelings and thoughts. One of the reasons we admire or like art, if we do, is that it reopens us in some sense—as Kafka wrote in a letter, art breaks the sea that’s frozen inside us. It reminds us of sensitivities that we might have lost at some cost. Freud gets at this in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It’s as though one is struggling to be as inert as possible—and struggling against one’s inertia.

Another of the early analysts, a Welshman called Ernest Jones, had an idea that, interestingly, sort of disappeared. He believed that everybody’s deepest fear was loss of desire, what he called aphanisis. For him that’s the thing we’re most acutely anxious about, having no desire. People now might call it depression, but it wouldn’t be the right word for it, because he’s talking about a very powerful anxiety of living in a world in which there’s nothing and nobody one wants. But it can be extremely difficult to know what you want, especially if you live in a consumer, capitalist culture which is phobic of frustration—where the moment you feel a glimmer of frustration, there’s something available to meet it. Now, shopping and eating and sex may not be what you’re wanting, but in order to find that out you have to have a conversation with somebody. You can’t sit in a room by yourself like Rodin’s Thinker.


Why not?


Because in your mind, you’re mad. But in conversation you have the chance of not being. Your mind by itself is full of unmediated anxieties and conflicts. In conversation things can be metabolized and digested through somebody else—I say something to you and you can give it back to me in different forms—whereas you’ll notice that your own mind is very often extremely repetitive. It is very difficult to surprise oneself in one’s own mind. The vocabulary of one’s self-criticism is so impoverished and clichéd. We are at our most stupid in our self-hatred.





In your essay “On Not Getting It,” you write, “We are, in actuality, something we don’t have the wherewithal to recognize.


The trouble is not that we can’t or don’t know things. The trouble is that we use knowing in bits of our lives where it doesn’t work, or where it’s actually not the point. I don’t mean to argue against knowing things or knowing people. But when you say you know someone, it’s very hard to know what it is you want by doing that.


In love, for instance?


Yes. We really do know the other person in some profound sense—and also we really don’t. And you could think that the fantasy of knowing is spurred by or prompted by something like “this person has a powerful effect on me and it’s so overwhelming that I’m going to manage this through a fantasy of knowledge.” For Proust, for example, knowing people is often very much about dealing with the anxiety that one can’t control them. As though, if I know or understand you, then I will have some sense of what you’re doing and where you’re going when you’re not with me. The question is what we use understanding to do.





There is a quotation in Missing Out that haunts me, from Randall Jarrell— “The ways we miss our lives are life.” What does this mean to you?


What’s painful about it? It could be extremely comforting, couldn’t it? It could be a way of saying, Actually, that’s what a life is, it’s the lives you don’t have. As if to say, Don’t worry, because that’s what a life is. Or just that missing all our supposed other lives is something modern people are keen to do. We are just addicted to alternatives, fascinated by what we can never do. As if we all had the wrong parents, or the wrong bodies, or the wrong luck.

[…] one is going to feel different things at different times. As Emerson said, “Our moods do not believe in each other.” There’s a mood in which you’ll feel, This is a terrible fact about life. We’re always going to be preoccupied by what we’re missing, by what we’ve lost, and there’s no way around it. And in other moods we can think, Well, that’s what it is to live a life, so get used to it, that’s the point. That’s not a problem, it’s the point.


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