Ileene Smith: Patti Smith said in Just Kids, “If you meet an obstacle, kick it in.” Am I correct in thinking that unforbidden pleasures are often interior, and that your point is that they don’t really require a kick, that they are low-hanging fruit, there for the taking?
Adam Phillips: I think the book is about the many ways in which forbidden pleasures have coerced our thinking and experiencing of pleasure. And one of the disarming and appealing things about unforbidden pleasures is that they are there for the taking. In a way they are pleasures without obstacles, except for or apart from the obstacle of our not having really considered their being of any major significance. So I think that part of the problem of unforbidden pleasures is their availability, their obviousness.
IS: Can you cite a few examples of unforbidden pleasures?
AP: The thing about examples is that there are too many of them. Again, this in itself might be quite revealing. Most of the pleasures of our lives, I think, are in fact unforbidden. The whole range from enjoying one’s coffee in the morning to walking outside on a sunny day. I think that there’s a huge range of unforbidden pleasures but they are partly invisible—making a list of them might almost sound banal. So I would say that most of our pleasures, most of our real enjoyments, are actually unforbidden pleasures.
IS: Where did the concept come from? Was it sparked in your consulting room?
AP: It came from a combination of things. One was in terms of the clinical work in my professional life—my interest in the tyranny of the Oedipus complex in psychoanalysis, and the tyranny therefore of the idea of forbidden incestuous desire, and the way in which my sense of psychoanalysis is that Freud discovered something extraordinary about pleasure, and in a way he partly reneged on it or abjured it so that he ended up talking really only about the formative effects of forbidden pleasure as a consequence of a kind of obsession with the father, and a kind of anxious disinterest in the relation of the mother—that whole pre-Oedipal stage of development.
So it seemed to me that the people I was seeing—I don’t really like to generalize about this—were sometimes as inhibited about unforbidden pleasures as about forbidden pleasures. One of the things I find myself doing in the therapy I do is enabling people to find out where their real enjoyment is. And being in some way surprised how difficult it is for people to discover what they really enjoy, having had so much enjoyment foisted upon them growing up. Everyone knows what they should like, what they should attend to, what they should be interested in. But it’s sometimes quite difficult to know what we are actually enjoying.