Josh Cohen

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Assistant: Gabriella Docherty


Josh Cohen is a psychoanalyst in private practice, and Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths University of London. He is the author of Spectacular Allegories (1998), Interrupting Auschwitz (2003) and How to Read Freud (2005), as well as numerous reviews and articles on modern literature, philosophy and psychoanalysis, appearing regularly in the TLS, Guardian and New Statesman. His latest book, The Private Life, was published by Granta in 2013, and addresses our current raging anxieties about privacy through explorations in psychoanalysis, literature and contemporary life.

Josh's next book, NOT WORKING will be published by Granta in 2019, and a book on the therapeutic power of literature will be published by Ebury in 2020.

The war over private life spreads inexorably. Some seek to expose, invade and steal it, others to protect, conceal and withhold it. Either way, the assumption is that privacy is a possession to be won or lost. But what if what we call private life is the one element in us that we can't possess? Could it be that we're so intent on taking hold of the privacy of others, or keeping hold of our own only because we're powerless to do either? In this groundbreaking book, Josh Cohen uses his experience as a psychoanalyst, literature professor and human being to explore the conception of private life as the presence in us of someone else, an uncanny stranger both unrecognisable and eerily familiar, who can be neither owned nor controlled. Drawing on a dizzying array of characters and concerns, from John Milton and Henry James to Katie Price and Snoopy, from philosophy and the Bible to pornography and late-night TV, The Private Life weaves a richly personal tapestry of ideas and experience. In a culture that floods our lives with light, it asks, how is it that we remain so helplessly in the dark?
"Perceptive and engaging... subtle and stimulating... In probing the vagaries and vulnerabilities of the 
human, Cohen gives us fascinating glimpses of cases." Observer
"Highly topical and fascinating... Summoning literature from Milton to Sophocles, Cohen concludes that our only hope now may be to protect things that should remain unknown. One nation under CCTV? No thank you - I'd like a little privacy now." Daily Telegraph
"Erudite... He draws heavily on Sigmund Freud to explain the subconscious, but is not beyond contemplating indignant ripostes to Freud. The liveliest parts of the book are those in which he talks about personal experiences." Independent
"elegant and suggestive... compelling... Cohen's prose has the aphoristic, epigrammatic quality that you find in Adam Phillips's writing about psychoanalysis." Guardian
"Doubling as a literary academic and a psychoanalyst, Josh Cohen is well poised to engage in acts of interpretation - of texts, patients, the culture as well as himself. In The Private Life, he examines some of the tensions in our snooping- and celebrity-obsessed world, where privacy is in danger of becoming a dirty word." Psychology Books of the Year, Observer
"Reflective, dark and literary... Cohen is a lyrical and deeply absorbing writer [who] touches a nerve. His use of literature, his autobiographical vignettes and his reflections on his own psychoanalytic experiences seduce." Jewish Quarterly
"Enlightening without being sententious... The Private Life deserves a place on domestic shelves to be read and referred to again and again, and every time to provide something new to think about." Jewish Chronicle
‘Josh Cohen has written an interesting book, which is both topical and original.’ Karl Miller, founder of the 
London Review of Books
"[A] timely book... this makes for fascinating reading... an enjoyable and witty read, and one that will make you 
reconsider the habit of lifelogging." We Love This Book
‘A work of real cultural importance, deserving of the widest readership.’ Rowan Williams
'In The Private Life Josh Cohen writes about the kind of privacy inaccessible to telephoto-lenses or phone hacking – 
that complicated, opaque privacy of which our unconscious is guarantor and source. At once both personal and 
speculative, the work of a writer equally at ease in literature and psychoanalysis, Cohen's book is a beguiling accessible, and intelligent investigation of what it means to possess a private life.’ Anthony Julius



Publication DetailsNotes


In this engaging introduction, Josh Cohen argues that Freud shows above all that any thought, word or action, however apparently trivial, can invite close reading. Indeed, it may be just this insight that makes psychoanalysis so many opponents. By reading - closely - short extracts from across Freud's work addressing the neuroses, the unconscious, words, death and (of course) sex, How to Read Freud brings out the paradoxical core of psychoanalytic thinking: our innermost truths only ever manifest themselves as distortions. Read attentively, our dreams, errors, jokes, symptoms, in short, our everyday lives, reveal us as masters of disguise, as unrecognisable to ourselves as to others.



Hitler, wrote Theodor Adorno, imposed "a new categorical imperative on arrange thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself." Interrupting Auschwitz argues that what gives this imperative its philosophical force and ethical urgency is the very impossibility of fulfilling it. But rather than being cause for despair, this failure offers a renewed conception of the tasks of thought and action. Precisely because the imperative cannot be fulfilled, it places thought in a state of perpetual incompletion, whereby our responsibility is never at an end and redemption is always interrupted. Josh Cohen argues that both Adorno's own writings on art after
Auschwitz and Emmanuel Levinas' interpretations of Judaism reveal both thinkers as impelled by this logic of interruption, by a passionate refusal to bring thought to a point of completion. The analysis of their motifs of art and religion are brought together in a final chapter on the poet-philosopher Edmond Jabes.