Adam Phillips

Reading Adam Phillips on the ways in which we think, act, and behave is among the most…enlivening things I can think of (I hesitate because he is also a great diagnostician of language and its meanings, sussing intent from our syntax and diction as well as from the content of our writing and speech). Phillips’s own slaloming sentences, which circle a cavernous topic-be it self criticism or Oedipus—to consider it from various vantage points, are, perhaps expectedly, among the most thrilling being written today. I feel forever, irrevocably changed after the first bite of a Phillips essay—and will often go back to chew on it again and again—whether I catch them when they appear in the London Review of Books, or when they’ve been collected into a book, as with his latest Unforbidden Pleasures (FSG).

In this new collection, Phillips isn’t after Original Sin, or at least he isn’t limiting himself to the Garden of Eden, though he does go there, with fresh, illuminating angles. He’s thinking rather about prohibitions, whether subtle or overt, self-made or otherwise, and the temptations they pose. Beginning with Oscar Wilde, stopping off at Nietszsche, Freud, and Shakespeare, Phillips burrows an interesting track of thought about the ways in which we construct and limit, bully, and fail to properly describe ourselves.