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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Promises, Promises

Adam Phillips

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To purchase Promises, Promises

Title: Promises, Promises
Author: Adam Phillips
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2000
Length: 383 pages
Availability: Promises, Promises - US
Promises, Promises - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : large, varied collection of pieces on literature and psychoanalysis

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 11/12/2000 Fram Dinshaw
The Guardian A 9/12/2000 Andrew Rissik
The NY Observer B+ 26/3/2001 Tanya Luhrmann
The Observer A 12/11/2000 Hermione Lee
Partisan Review . 1/2002 Daniel Hayes
The Spectator . 25/11/2000 Lewis Wolpert
The Sunday Times . 21/1/2001 Stephen Logan

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very positive.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Phillips is a good writer: incisive, witty, sceptical, pragmatic, open-minded and resolutely democratic. On the evidence of his writing, I would guess that he is also an unusually good clinician. The hero of this book is Freud, both as scientist and poet." - Fram Dinshaw, Daily Telegraph

  • "(A) continually absorbing and intellectually wide-ranging collection of lectures, essays and journalism (.....) Behind Phillips's fine, discursive book lies a fundamental, informing uneasiness that psychoanalysis may be pretending to an authority that it cannot ultimately possess." - Andrew Rissik, The Guardian

  • "When Mr. Phillips' technique succeeds, his essays are a delight to read -- evocative, sparkling, fun; when it does not, as happens too often in this new collection, Promises, Promises, you wish that he, or at least his editor, had been more disciplined. There are moments the book's title seem ironical." - Tanya Luhrmann, The New York Observer

  • "Promises, Promises relishes the miscellaneous; characteristically, and appealingly, it avoids dogma, certitudes and authority. But it does have a strong and absorbing theme, which is the relation of psychoanalysis and literature." - Hermione Lee, The Observer

  • "He is entirely at home with Lacan's statement that an act always misunderstands itself. But the trouble is that while his prose is elegant, these repeated givings and takings away become tedious as they are not genuine paradoxes but poetic and ultimately uninformative prose. (...) It is remarkable that a book that says so much can say so little." - Lewis Wolpert, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Adam Phillips studied literature before turning to psychoanalysis. In recent years he has become a prolific writer, churning out articles and books. His focus remains largely psychoanalytic, but he finds applications elsewhere as well -- particularly in examinations of literary works, and of the lives of authors. It is often a rewarding perspective, though occasionally also a limiting one.
       Promises, Promises contains twenty-eight varied essays and reviews, ranging from simple book reviews to more elaborate psychoanalytical examinations. The collection begins, appropriately enough, with a longer piece on Poetry and Psychoanalysis. Throughout, the connections between art and psychoanalysis play a large role.
       Phillips writes that creative artists are "the psychoanalyst's secular idols". He himself displays both professional (though, fortunately, not really clinical) interest in artists and their ways, lives, and art, as well as an honest love of literature, as is evident throughout this collection.
       The pieces are a very varied lot, dealing with interesting but far-flung subjects. Phillips offers his usual dose of psychoanalytic case studies, theoretical dissections, and multiple opinions. The pieces that are most focussed -- generally, perforce, the book reviews -- are the most successful, though some readers might prefer Phillips more meandering discursions. From reviews of Nijinsky's diaries and Martin Amis' Night Train, a consideration of Hart Crane, Lacan's biography, Pessoa, and "Winnicott's Hamlet", and an essay on "Narcissism, For and Against", he offers something for most tastes.
       In the last piece he speaks of offering "a disarray of reflections", but the disarray is found elsewhere too. It is a style that seems to work for him, as it surely doesn't for all readers. In a collection such as this, where one can browse and skip over, it is, at least, less of a burden.
       There is enough here that is of interest, some clever ideas and interesting ways of looking at things. Nevertheless, only those who insist on their literature and psychoanalysis being twinned will be truly enthusiastic about it.

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Promises, Promises: Reviews: Other books by Adam Phillips under review: Books discussed in Promises, Promises under review:

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About the Author:

       Adam Phillips is the author of numerous books and frequent articles. He used to be a child psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital, London.

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© 2001-2010 the complete review

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