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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

November 13, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

ON FLIRTATION: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life by Adam Phillips (Harvard: $19.95; 226 pp.) This is not a joie de vivre book, not a bon vivant, c'est la guerre sort of book. Not a flirtatious treatment of flirtation. Do not be fooled by Robert Doisneau's photograph ("Les Amoureux aux Jonquilles") on the cover. Nor is it sheepish. Phillips does not sidle into the subject crab-wise and guilty. First things first: "To be committed to something . . . one has first to be committed, perhaps unconsciously, to commitment itself." "Flirtation," on the other hand, "is the game of taking chances, of plotting illicit possibilities." Much of the book refers to and challenges Freud. The Freudian self, writes Phillips, knows "what it wants and is always wanting; we can call this 'unconscious desire.' " But there is another self that interests Phillips as well: the self "that is not about knowing what it wants or is wanting. This version of the self--for which wanting is not the game--lives its contingency without contesting it." For the contingent self, "We cannot make our relationships work; we can only make our compromises work." The chapter on guilt, of course, is a little convoluted. Something about "turning pain into meaning--which is the project both of psychoanalysis and of most religions." And "psychoanalysis," writes Phillips, "has always been a religion in which you are not allowed to believe in God." In other words: Deal with it.

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