This is some incredible writing from psychotherapist Adam Phillips. It’s an edited extract from his forthcoming book On Giving Up and is based on the subtle difference between ‘giving up’ something and… just giving up.
It’s a really important read, at least for me, and particularly poignant at the start of the year. The fact that he talks about Montaigne (one of my favourite authors) and Marion Milner’s demarcation of different forms of attention makes this a highly recommended read. It’s long, but worth it.
I’ve almost picked at random a section to quote here because it’s all fantastic.
There are, to put it as simply as possible, what turn out to be good and bad sacrifices (and sacrifice creates the illusion – or reassures us – that we can choose our losses). There is the giving up that we can admire and aspire to, and the giving up that profoundly unsettles us. What, for example, does real hope or real despair require us to relinquish? What exactly do we imagine we are doing when we give something up? There is an essential and far-reaching ambiguity to this simple idea. We give things up when we believe we can change; we give up when we believe we can’t.
All the new thinking, like all the old thinking, is about sacrifice, about what we should give up to get the lives we should want. For our health, for our planet, for our emotional and moral wellbeing – and, indeed, for the profits of the rich – we are asked to give up a great deal now. But alongside this orgy of improving self-sacrifices – or perhaps underlying it – there is a despair and terror of just wanting to give up. A need to keep at bay the sense that life may not be worth the struggle, the struggle that religions and therapies and education, and entertainment, and commodities, and the arts in general are there to help us with. For more and more people now it seems that it is their hatred and their prejudice and their scapegoating that actually keeps them going. As though we are tempted more than ever by what Nietzsche once called “a will to nothingness, a counter-willan aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life”.
The abiding disillusionment with politics and personal relationships, the demand for and the fear of free speech, the dread and the longing for consensus and the coerced consensus of the various fundamentalisms has created a cultural climate of intimidation and righteous indignation. It is as if our ambivalence about our aliveness – about the feeling alive that, however fleeting, sustains us – has become an unbearable tension and needs to be resolved. So even though we cannot, as yet, imagine or describe our lives without the idea of sacrifice, and its secret sharer, compromise, the whole notion of what we want and can get through sacrifice is less clear; both what we think we want and what we are as yet unaware of wanting. The formulating of personal and political ideals has become either too assured or too precarious. And the whole notion of sacrifice depends upon our knowing what we want.
Source: What we talk about when we talk about giving up | The Guardian
Image: DALL-E 3