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On Balance

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  69 ratings  ·  8 reviews
“Balancing acts,” writes Adam Phillips, “are entertaining because they are risky, but there are situations in which it is more dangerous to keep your balance than to lose it.” In these exhilarating and casually brilliant essays, the philosopher and psychoanalyst examines literature, fairy tales, works of art, and case studies to reveal the paradoxes inherent in our appetit ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 31st 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published July 1st 2010)
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Tim Pendry
This has all the faults and benefits of a collection of smaller essays brought together to make a book.

Some of the pieces are startling good, enough to make the purchase of the book worthwhile, while others are utterly boring unless you are an academic fascinated with academic opinion on the opinions of dead poets.

Adam Phillips is an interesting intellectual. Of East European Jewish heritage but fully British (actually adoptive Welsh) in his outlook, he uses a Freudian psychoanalytic platform a
...more
Abol
Full of insights on excess and our frustrations, on helplessness and its moral value, on fundamentalism (how we all harbour one), on children being difficult to test their parents worth, on the authenticity issue, on getting away with having sex without having to have sex, on getting lost and its merits (what is it you're at a loss about?). Those were some of the headlines, what is great about it is that you can read it in Hyde Park or Dianna' Fountain, or even under a tree when it rains and you ...more
Sean Goh
Nonsensically dense.

We can only really be realistic after we have tried our optimism out.

It is only our fantasies that are excessive, our appetites are sensible. (generally.)

There is always a magical belief that by destroying the thing that we love we destroy our need for it.
And having it all means not having to make choices.

People know they are in a relationship when they become a problem to each other.

The hell of a narcissist is the tyranny of his need for others.

Helplessness is the preconditi
...more
Alan
I thought some of the essays were outstanding, some were difficult to follow, and some were of no interest to me. Overall, Adam Phillips uses the lens of psychoanalysis to explore ideas and ways of thinking that we never thought were worth examining.

In one chapter I was fascinated by his discussion of how we interpret situations that make us feel guilty for getting away with something (like stealing and not getting caught). There is also a great discussion of Diane Arbus’ black and white photos
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Rand
(view spoiler) ...more
Michael Vagnetti
An apotheosis of kind of essay technique that is both fantastic and practical. Challenging, dashing essays on the constellation of behaviors involving balance and stability: excess, authenticity, disenchantment, truancy, sleep, getting away with things, and, most impressively, helplessness.

The writing is especially aware of how desire exists in language, and is often a literary reading of mental behavior. It tells the stories of how we think and act through the torque, texture, and friction of w
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Jane
A hard slog at times but littered with exquisite gems.
Tom King
Either too deep or trying to be too deep for me.
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“Greed is a way of avoiding making choices: if I have everything I don't have to choose what I want. And choosing what I want means giving up some pleasures for other pleasures.” 8 likes
“The big secret about Art is that no one wants it to be true.” 6 likes
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