Q: I’m wondering if you give any credence to the idea of or the importance, the notion of what falls out of one’s pockets absent of language—eye contact. I’m just finding as I get older, that the idea of language, even with transgression—not transgressions, digressions, it sometimes feels like sort of a defense mechanism, that it’s apart from what is at the center of all of this. And I’m curious about that.
ADAM PHILLIPS: I can see that, but the problem, which I’m sure you’re aware of, is that every time we refer to nonlinguistic phenomena, we refer to them in language. So there is always going to be a sort of conundrum in this. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t things outside language, but all we can say about them, it seems to me, is that they’re outside language. The moment they begin to be described, they become linguistic phenomena. So I think it would be naïve to think—I mean, clearly, you know, we spend the first whatever it is, one year, one and a half years of our lives, as nonverbal creatures who make sounds. Language comes very, very late in the day and from outside. So it’s a foreign body in that sense. But it becomes a foreign body that is second nature very, very quickly. You know, the child cries or has all sorts of distresses. You, the parent, give a name or words to this distress. This very quickly is taken up by the child, and you can see why because it organizes the pain and also sometimes it instrumentally works. But there’s a gap, because we’re overorganized in language, or we’re over-somethinged in language, but once we’re talking about what’s outside it, we can only do it in language.
– From Adam Phillips in conversation with Paul Holdengraber
May 4, 2007
Live from the New York Public Library