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Caring but little sharingEqualsAdam Phillips160pp FaberAdam Phillips the psychotherapist and editor of writers including Lamb Pater and Burke is also considered by many to be a grand master of the essay form One of the finest prose stylists at work in the language according to John Banville In a passage quoted on the jacket of Equals his new book the Observer critic Gaby Wood compares him to Kafka Benjamin and Kundera and credits him with single-handedly continuing the tradition of the worlds best essayists The American novelist Jane Mendelsohn has placed him in the line of Chekhov as a man who writes as well as he doctorsIn such books as Darwins Worms and Terrors and Experts Phillips has written about his discontents and quarrels with the business of orthodox psychoanalysis and meditated on such conundrums as success loss monogamy mourning and boredom He is a frequent reviewer of contemporary fiction and poetry and reprints those review-essays alongside his psychiatric ruminationsIndeed as he has stated in On Flirtation he believes that psychoanalysis has always been of a piece with the various languages of literature a kind of practical poetry His essays proceed through indirection questions repetitions reversals substitutions and wordplay rather than structured argument and emphasise narrative and storytelling even when they address complex psychoanalytic problemsPhillipss reputation as a supreme literary stylist and ingenious post-Freudian sage may have intimidated reviewers many of whom admit that his arcane and aphoristic books are difficult to prcis summarise or explain while insisting none the less that they are brilliant But although Phillips has many of the important gifts of the essayist - intelligence curiosity fluency originality erudition - he lacks others just as essential especially humour clarity a personal voice and a sense of the concreteIn Equals ostensibly about the relationship between psychoanalysis and democracy even his intellectual gifts have become ponderous and conventional while his stylistic weaknesses by constantly reminding us of his intellectual superiority seem conspicuously
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