Self-help as curation

KAHR — Life Lessons From Freud

I bought Brett Kahr‘s Life Lessons from Freud on a whim—something, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t really happen that often to me. I knew about The School of Life, as it had once pierced through my snooty skepticism: I’d genuinely liked Alain de Botton’s urging of How to Think More About Sex, although I found that there just needed to be more of that book; Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane managed to be both tepid and chirpily condescending, and it’s really quite telling that Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (read days within that book) helped me more in the sanity department.

I don’t mind Alain de Botton advising me on how to think more about sex, but when strangers like Philippa Perry elbow their way into my bookshelves and bid me to stay sane, we face a wee problem. TSOL has as its thrust (gimmick?): Providing directions to a happier, if more fulfilled life, in a “Yes, I know self-help is beneath you, but hear these babies out” tone. But instead of advice from random experts whose feedback I don’t care two shits about, in Life Lessons from Freud and the rest of their new series, they’ve lassoed experts on people I could tip my ear for. I don’t know who Brett Kahr is, and he’s not going to start giving me advice on important matters like “How to Sabotage Your Greatest Success,” among others—but it is way easier to trust him to curate Sigmund Freud’s work and assemble it into a cheeky but earnest little book on how to navigate one’s life, as well as a primer on the fleecy-headed shrink who’s more bedecked in infamy than anything else these days.

It’s the curation I was curious about; someone had to wade through all those case studies and psychiatric treatises (or whatever they’re called) and fashion them into a mini-manual on, say, how to steal another man’s wife. Brett Kahr fit the bill, I found out. Life Lessons from Freud is tidy and clever, offering enough of brain hurt from Freud’s writings, with Kahr’s voice confidently (chummily, intelligently, and never condescendingly) steering the reader through it all.

[Perhaps this points to a hubris-related failing in my psyche—but I am resistant to advice from well-meaning (I’m assuming) complete strangers. I was prepared to loathe Cheryl Strayed, for example, never having read a Dear Sugar column before—but trusted her enough that I ended up reading a book on freaking hiking in a moment of distress. I likewise shy away from meeting a cloudy little issue in my brain head-on. And so if I need words for a consuming but eternally hazy grief over the chaos left by a supertyphoon, I turn to Donna Tartt; if the politics in this country makes me want to eat a blanket, I let Scarlet rage for me; if weeks go by and all I can think of are gazes brushing against each other in the middle of a loud and bright bullpen, I nudge away my scorn for Murakami and pick up Norwegian Wood. Because, as I’ve pointed out several times, this is what I do: I read books.]

[And Kahr’s book sent up a flare of ambition that I usually keep doused because who has the time for that these days anyway? Ahem. I figured I could start a careless series, “Life Lessons” of my own—and from Mary Balogh, Stephen King, the Batman books, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Carver, Jude Deveraux, yadda yadda. And then I thought of all the work that entailed, and I laughed, and then I ate a biscuit.]

Apologies if all that sounds rather floaty. It’s six in the morning where I am, and I haven’t had a wink of sleep. It’s pretty much SOP for Monday mornings, especially if the P. is a way. Would Freud have a field day with that one, or would my life simply bore?

2 thoughts on “Self-help as curation

  1. Loved this. The case study in Freud’s Studies in Hysteria is the one by Breuer on Anna O. He was a far better clinician than Freud. I also think you would like Freud’s Dora. The Wolfman is pretty good especially with the young woman journalist who did a follow up after she tracked him down just before he died. She is a treasure. He was seen by Deutsch and someone else I forget after Freud died. The case study to die for and live by is Francoise Dolto’s Dominique:Study of An Adolescent Boy. It is the very best. She uses Lacan theory in it and when you have finished you will be breathless.

    Foucault early book on Psychology is worth it. As he says pooh-pooh to the whole mess.


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