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.
A book on the therapeutic power of literature will be published by Ebury in 2021, called HOW TO LIVE, WHAT TO DO.
What can Alice in Wonderland teach us about childhood? Could reading Conversations with Friends guide us through first love? Does Esther Greenwood’s glittering success and subsequent collapse in The Bell Jar help us understand ambition? And, finally, what can we learn about death from Virginia Woolf?
Literature matters. Not only does it provide escapism and entertainment, but it also holds a mirror up to our lives to show us aspects of ourselves we may not have seen or understood. From jealousy to grief, fierce love to deep hatred, our inner lives become both stranger and more familiar when we explore them through fiction.
Josh Cohen, a psychoanalyst and Professor of Modern Literary Theory, delves deep into the inner lives of the most memorable and vivid characters in literature. His analysis of figures such as Jay Gatsby and Mrs Dalloway offers insights into the greatest questions about the human experience, ones that we can all learn from. He walks us through the different stages of existence, from childhood to old age, showing that literature is much more than a refuge from the banality and rigour of everyday life – through the experiences of its characters, it can show us ways to be wiser, more open and more self-aware.
‘Timely… a probing exploration of the creative and imaginative possibilities of inactivity and a decided pushback against the “sacralisation of work” that pervades the west’ - Financial Times
‘I like this book very much… [Cohen] is fantastically good at making us question our hard-won strategies of avoidance and resistance to stopping’ - Suzanne Moore, New Statesman
‘Gently provocative, intensely humane and exceptionally thought-provoking… if we dare to stop, who know what rich inner worlds we might discover?’ - The Lady
‘Not Working is a polemic against our overwork culture and a meditation on its alternatives… a valuable reminder of the exorbitant price of a Duracell bunny existence’ - The Guardian
“There is much food for thought in this erudite homage to catatonia. Cohen is right to observe that our world of ‘frenetic scheduling, hyperactivity and permanent distraction’ has ‘made an outlaw of silence and indifference’, and that in the social media age, even mere reticence can be subversive” - The Spectator
‘[Cohen’s] account of Tracey Emin’s controversial 1998 installation ‘My Bed’ is one of the best I’ve read… It is very nice – comforting even – to be told it’s ok to stop’ - The Observer
"Josh Cohen knows a great deal about the forces that drive and sometimes overpower us. In this compelling new book, he explores writers and artists, brings himself and what he has learned from his patients into the mix, to make a passionate argument for the benefits of floating free from the chains of work. Scintillating." - Lisa Appignanesi
‘The thrust of Cohen’s argument is hard to disagree with… a good and thoughtful corrective to our age of pathological distraction. Learning to stop, Cohen contends, might just be the way to start living again’ - The Mail on Sunday
"Cohen’s lucid and subtle book exposes something we all know but don’t know how to recognise – that work doesn’t work for most people and that even when it does work it is a refuge from so many other things."- Adam Phillips
'To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world.' Oscar Wilde
More than ever before, we live in a culture that excoriates inactivity and demonizes idleness. Work, connectivity and a constant flow of information are the cultural norms, and a permanent busyness pervades even our quietest moments. Little wonder so many of us are burning out. In a culture that tacitly coerces us into blind activity, the art of doing nothing is disappearing. Inactivity can induce lethargy and indifference, but is also a condition of imaginative freedom and creativity. Psychoanalyst Josh Cohen explores the paradoxical pleasures of inactivity, and considers four faces of inertia - the burnout, the slob, the daydreamer and the slacker. Drawing on his personal experiences and on stories from his consulting room, while punctuating his discussions with portraits of figures associated with the different forms of inactivity - Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, Emily Dickinson and David Foster Wallace - Cohen gets to the heart of the apathy so many of us feel when faced with the demands of contemporary life, and asks how we might live a different and more fulfilled existence.
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?
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 humankind...to 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