Intellectual crush #3: On Pleasure and Frustration

I miss James Hillman. I really do. I just saw a friend last week,  a fellow therapist, who is the person who talked me into talking to Hillman the last time I saw him. The minute I saw her I greeted her with the following, "I thought of you when Hillman died." I know that "hello and "how are you" are more customary, but this woman greeted me with the same, "I know, I thought of you too." When you love someone as deeply as I love Hillman it can take awhile before you are willing to fall in love again. You may even defend against love and swear you will never-ever-ever find it again. But one day you do. One day you are reading a book and you find that you must immediately go to and order every other book that this person ever wrote. And, dear readers, I have found such an author. Let me introduce you to Adam Phillips. Adam Phillips, the author and British psychotherapist, is a genius. I had several of his books in my bookcase for several years and I hadn't read them. Just recently I began to read "On Balance" and I lost mine and I started Googling him( which is a bit ironic as Adam is a conscious technophobe who eschews cell phones and emails in favor of a less wired and more inspired lifestyle).and I found this interview that I have watched more times than I care to admit. But trust me, watch this and really think about what he says and it will change you( well, it changed me...and it made me fall in love with thanatos all over again). This is a whole lot of important stuff in only six minutes and eight seconds. If you can't be bothered to watch it and rather read, then I quote from his New York Times Interview in which he discusses the Psychoanalysis of pleasure and frustation:

One of the obstacles is the demand that we be happy, that we enjoy our lives. I think it’s a huge distraction, and it’s very very undermining, I think. So, living in a quasi-hedonistic culture, I think it’s a big problem. It’s wrong because, if we are to make this crude, in the old days whenever that was, there was an internal injunction to be good. Now the injunction is to be happy, or to be enjoying yourself. And the reason this is a distraction is because life is also painful, in other words—and it’s a very simple thing and its very obvious—and it starts in childhood—which is that if someone can satisfy you, they can also frustrate you. This is ineluctable, this is structural, it is never going to change. This means that everybody has to deal with ambivalence. They are going to have to deal with the fact that they love and hate the person they love and hate.

What we are continually being sold are possibilities for pleasure…as though all we want to do is get away from the pain and increase the pleasure. I think this is a very impoverished view of what a life is, even though every life has something to do with the pain and the pleasure. But there’s a difference between evacuating pain and frustration and modifying it. And what we’re starved of now is frustration. There isn’t a really powerful account of the value of the state of frustration. It’s as though we are phobic of frustration. And as soon as there is a moment of frustration, it has to be filled with something. It’s a bit like the mother who overfeeds her child—she does that stop her child from having an appetite, because the appetite is so frightening.

I think that it would be possible to have pictures of good lives that are not set up to make one fail. So that a more realistic idea, as opposed to ideal, is one that is genuinely attainable…Ideals create a sort of fight-or-flight. Either you run away from it, you get rid of it, and produce a new one, or you comply with it, or you battle with it. I would be interested in people producing fictions that are discussable, that are realistically possible, rather than humiliating. Because the other thing about cultural Ideals is that they are set up to humiliate us. So that the fictions would be non-diminishing, they would be genuinely possible, but they would keep alive the idea that we don’t know who we might become, and that who we want to be is very important.

Giving up on happiness. Accepting frustration. Fictions that are possible. If someone can satisfy you they can also frustrate you. Brilliant, huh?

That said, I still miss Hillman.

More on Adam Phillips:


"Why you are "Too Much for Yourself"

On Why You Are a Fundamentalist