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? Called “one of the finest prose stylists at work in the language, an Emerson of our time” by John Banville, the psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips suggests that if we accept frustration as a way of outlining what we really want, satisfaction suddenly becomes possible. As he argues in his most recent work, Missing Out, to crave a life without frustration is to crave a life without the potential to identify and accomplish our desires.
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. In conversation with Paul Holdengräber, he will discuss his most recent work, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.
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