The Private Life

Why We Remain in the Dark

Josh Cohen

Published: 2 October 2014
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 240 pages
ISBN: 9781847085306


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 concept 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?

About the author

Image of Josh Cohen

Josh Cohen is a psychoanalyst in private practice, and Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles on modern literature, psychoanalysis and cultural theory. His books include How to Read Freud (Granta, 2005) and The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark (Granta, 2013). He is a regular contributor to Guardian, New Statesman and TLS. More about the author


‘A compelling and convincing account of current behavioural trends’ Luke Davies



‘A rich interrogation of private and public identities at a time when covert intrusion, state secrecy and oversharing compete for headlines’ Deborah Bowman

‘A work of real importance cultural importance, deserving of the widest readership’ Rowan Williams

‘An intelligent and highly literary exploration of the changing nature of privacy in the age of Facebook’ Alex Preston

‘Doubling as a literary academic and a psychoanalyst, Cohen is well poised to engage in acts of interpretation - of texts, patients, the culture as well as himself. [Here] he examines some of the tensions in our snooping and celebrity-obsessed world, where privacy is in danger of becoming a dirty word’ Lisa Appignanesi, Books of the Year

‘Enlightening without being sententious... [It] deserves to be read and referred to again and again, and every time to provide something new to think about’

‘Fascinating... An enjoyable and witty read’

‘Josh Cohen has written an interesting book, which is both topical and original’ Karl Miller

‘Reflective, dark and literary... Cohen is at times a lyrical writer, a deeply absorbing one. ... Cohen touches a nerve. His use of literature, his autobiographical vignettes and his reflections on his own psychoanalytic experiences gradually seduce one into his mode’ Stephen Frosh

‘Subtle and stimulating’ Lisa Appignanesi

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