We should not, perhaps, underestimate our wish to lose our balance, even though it’s often easier to get up than to fall over. Indeed, the sign that something does matter to us is that we lose our steadiness.
It is not unusual for us to feel that life is too much for us.
When we make Freudian slips we try to cover our tracks by claiming that we have said more than we mean, when in fact we have meant more than we had wanted to say… We may feel like we are saying too much, but we may be saying just the right amount; adding things to the conversation that are worth talking about and trying out. We can’t decide not to make Freudian slips; but even when we use ordinary language intentionally, we often say more than we intend. If I say to you that I am a great admirer of your work, I am telling you about my greatness as well as yours; when I say, “See you tomorrow,” I am assuming I know what isn’t going to happen in the interim. Our language, without which we couldn’t imagine our lives, is too much for us in the sense that it can surprise us: we hear in it – and we say in it – more than we intend to. And more than we attend to.
We are too much for ourselves – in our hungers and our desires, in our griefs and our commitments, in our loves and our hates – because we are unable to include so much of what we feel in the picture we have of ourselves.
The whole idea of ourselves as excessive exposes how determined we are to have the wrong picture of what we are like, of how fanatically ignorant we are about ourselves.
It is in adolescence, Phillips argues, that we first begin to play with the boundaries of excess, feeling out what we might be capable of and contemplating – sometimes experiencing – its consequences. Indeed, that precipice of maturity is itself “singularly captivating” in both promise and peril. Phillips writes:
Adolescence – when children begin to have the physical capacity to murder and conceive – is our more conscious initiation into those very excesses that make us who we are; and, of course, who we might become.
Adolescents are excessive compared with the children they once were and the adults they are supposed to become. But adolescence, at least for modern people, seems to be peculiarly difficult to grow out of.
The contemporary idealization of adolescence is telling us something about how we manage our complicated feelings about being too much for ourselves.
Excessive behavior, in other words, is not so much something we grow out of as something we grow into.