From Joan Acocella’s review of Adam Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.
The first chapter of “Missing Out” is “On Frustration,” in praise of that emotion. Frustration makes people real to us, he says, because, in our lives, they are usually the sources of it. Indeed, frustration makes reality itself real to us. Consider love:
“There is a world of difference between erotic and romantic daydream and actually getting together with someone; getting together is a lot more work, and is never exactly what one was hoping for. So there are three consecutive frustrations: the frustration of need, the frustration of fantasized satisfaction not working, and the frustration of satisfaction in the real world being at odds with the wished-for, fantasized satisfaction…And this is when it works.”
….In Phillips’s view, the quest for understanding is not just an insult to emotional health; it is an intellectual error. ”We think we know more about the experiences we don’t have”—the unlived life—“than about the experiences we do have.” In the candyland of our imagining, there is no check on the “authority of inexperience, the conviction we gain from not having done things…Behind such ignorance, however, are facts we are foolish to ignore:
“There is nothing we could know about ourselves or another that can solve the problem that other people actually exist, and we are utterly dependent on them…There is nothing to know apart from this, and everything else we know, or claim to know, or are supposed to know, or not know, follows from this.”