Adam Phillips interview extract



SP You talk about having a sense of reality and what an appropriate response to it may or may not be. I see video footage coming from around the world, attesting to the undeniable reality of suffering. More and more mediated suffering is available to us daily in our streams. It’s increasingly becoming part of a lived communication culture. Is this something you’re affected by?

AP Somewhere in his diaries, Franz Kafka says: “You can protect yourself from all the suffering in the world and that’s the one suffering you could have avoided.” That’s the point; there is all this suffering in the world and we know more and more about it. However, what it calls up in us to deal with, at its best, so to speak, is a kind of inured, detached horror. The sadomasochistic solution to this is to find it all incredibly exciting and gripping and to want more and more of it. That is a catastrophe created by a culture that makes suffering and exploitation bearable by making or cultivating a sadomasochistic pleasure.

What’s very difficult is to have a relatively un-evasive relationship to suffering. Were more people to have that, it might mobilize more realistic resources to deal with it. Suffering is intrinsic to life, but some suffering is avoidable. What seems to be pretty devastating is how much given suffering is absolutely there; how much suffering is actually created by us. It isn’t possible to create a world without suffering, but it is possible to make a world with less suffering. Instead, we are being invited to be excitedly horrified.