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A Basic Theory of NeuropsychoanalysisA Cursing Brain?A Dream of Undying FameA Map of the MindAfter LacanAgainst AdaptationAgainst FreudAn Anatomy of AddictionAnalytic FreudAndré Green at the Squiggle FoundationAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnna FreudAnna Freud: A BiographyApproaching PsychoanalysisAttachment and PsychoanalysisBadiouBecoming a SubjectBefore ForgivingBerlin PsychoanalyticBetween Emotion and CognitionBeyond GenderBeyond SexualityBeyond the Pleasure PrincipleBiology of FreedomBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCarl JungCassandra's DaughterCherishmentConfusion of TonguesContemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third ReichCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthDarwin's WormsDesert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)Dispatches from the Freud WarsDoes the Woman Exist?Doing Psychoanalysis in TehranDreaming and Other Involuntary MentationDreaming by the BookEnergy 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Floyd ArchivesIntimaciesIntimate RevoltIrrationalityIs Oedipus Online?Jacques LacanJacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisJung and the Making of Modern PsychologyJung Stripped BareKilling FreudLacanLacanLacanLacan and Contemporary FilmLacan at the SceneLacan For BeginnersLacan in AmericaLacan TodayLacan's Seminar on AnxietyLawLearning from Our MistakesLove's ExecutionerMad Men and MedusasMale Female EmailMelanie KleinMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMental SlaveryMind to MindMixing MindsMoral StealthMourning and ModernityMovies and the MindMurder in ByzantiumNew Studies of Old VillainsNocturnesNoir AnxietyOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn BeliefOn IncestOn Not Being Able to SleepOn the Freud WatchOn the Way HomeOpen MindedOpera's Second DeathOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsPhenomology & Lacan on Schizophrenia, After the Decade of the BrainPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPsychiatry, 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the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of 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Related Topics
Going SaneReview - Going Sane
Maps of Happiness
by Adam Phillips
Fourth Estate, 2006
Review by Sjoerd van Hoorn, MA
Mar 27th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 13)

Philosophers of a linguistic bent know that some concepts are best clarified in terms of their opposites. It is very hard to say what justice is, but if we can it make it clear what we consider unjust this will illuminate the idea of justice by highlighting its edges. This is not quite the same thing as circumscribing health by describing pathology, as some followers of Sigmund Freud have proposed doing, but is sufficiently similar to it to make sense of what we might call anthropology. Nevertheless focusing on pathology makes us prone to a certain lopsidedness. It is surely not by looking at darkness alone that we get to know what daylight is.

This or something like it seems to have been on Adam Phillips's mind when he conceived of writing Going Sane: Maps of Happiness, a book on madness and sanity whose subtitle seems to have added mainly for marketing purposes. Sanity, Phillips says, has received remarkably little attention when compared to madness. Whereas madness has been written about in all its lurid colors time and again, sanity has been left to its own devices in an obscure corner of the house of the history of mentalities.

Going Sane, despite its being written in a fairly accessible style, is a difficult book that is hard to place. This is not so much due to a reliance on Phillips's side on familiarity with the ideas of psychoanalysts such as Winnicott and Klein -- though that does complicate things a little -- as to what I can only describe as the book's performative oxymoron. I mean by this that Going Sane's apparently contradictory message is put across to the reader by the move the text makes.

The proposition Going Sane advances is that sanity boils down to making room for conflict. A sane person is someone who is tolerant of his own and others' conflicting desires, ideas, foibles. One is reminded of the title of a book by Stuart Hampshire: Justice is Conflict.  This is an important idea. Sanity or justice does not consist in striving after perfection. Sanity is a space where life in all its messiness can take place.

Put like that the leading idea of Going Sane seems simple enough. Indeed this thought could be put in twenty-four pages as Adam Phillips in fact does when he finally gets down to making his point explicit. Its force only becomes clear in the process of being put through reading hundred and seventy-three pages about madness prior to finding out what Phillips wants to make manifest about sanity.

The first two parts of the book consist of a dialectic between various theories of what we in fact want and what we ought to want according to such luminaries as Nietzsche, Carlyle, Orwell and Keynes and various psychoanalysts. There seems to be no point to it, only -- to use William James's famous phrase mentioned in the book -- a blooming buzzing confusion. Phillips has written a number of poignant mini-essays on George Orwell's 1984, which he says contains a model of insanity and some ways to deal with it. At one point I found myself wishing that Phillips had written a book on Orwell instead of jumping from one point to the next. Among the motifs of madness Phillips employs mainly sex and money I missed the celebrity cult and the mania for accountability in terms of quantifiability that dominates the way policy makers think about the academic world, health care and the criminal justice system. I would have liked reading what Phillips thinks about these issues.

In a word I wanted to read a book rather different from the one I was in fact reading. The third and last part of the book strongly suggests that this messiness might be the deliberate effect of the way the book is intended to work. If it is, I can only conclude that it has worked. Now, I still want to read that book about Orwell...

 

© 20007 Sjoerd van Hoorn

Sjoerd van Hoorn teaches philosophy of social science at the Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

 


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