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Why are we all so spellbound by ideas of escape – and yet so dismissive of mere escapism? Houdini’s Box explores four different escape artists. There is the case history of a little girl who is oddly committed to playing her own wayward version of hide and seek. There is Harry Houdini, the ‘Greatest Magician the World has Ever Seen’, who electrified the world through a series of death-defying escapes, compulsively re-inventing and re-enacting his own confinement. There is a man who, Jonah-like, is always arriving at the place he was escaping from, who thinks it is his destiny to be in flight, whether from women or from his analyst. And finally the poet Emily Dickinson, who for the last twenty years of her life finds freedom in self-imposed solitary confinement.
In this, his most captivating book to date, Adam Phillips reminds us why people often feel most alive in the very moment of escape. But whether we are getting away from something, or getting away with something – as Icarus, or Oedipus, or Narcissus; as victims or tyrants – we cannot describe ourselves without also describing what we need to escape from, and what we want to escape to.
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