Revisiting Laing

Reflections on Laing in the 21st century
A reading group on the dissident psychiatrist at the Claremont Project
Islington London 2015

'Insanity - a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world', a R. D. Laing quote from Rebecca Greenslade who brought together the reading group. 5 meetings in as many months made for an intriguing space for the differing ways of reading all our psychotic symptoms via Laing's writing.

 

The meetings covered The Divided Self 1960, Sanity Madness and the Family 1964, The Politics of Experience 1967 and Knots 1970 ending with a screening of Asylum at Kingsley Hall. Filmed by Peter Robinson, Asylum documented the reality of everyday life at Archway, another experimental co-habitation space not dissimilar to Kingsley Hall set up by the Philadelphia Association whereby residents could live on equal terms in a sort of therapeutic alliance.

To see those domestic scenes against the background of a 70s London, Ford Anglias, streets without yellow lines somehow felt like seeing a pared-down reality. The residents seem quaint and homogeneous without all the pre-figuring complications of today's trans-sexuality, cultural diversity, gender fluidity, etc. (watch the Asylum extract first).
That said we have a renewed social intolerance of those who trespass the collective fictions that bind us and that punish those who suffer insanity or deviation 'not because they suffer but because they are insufferable'.

Laing and the anti-psychiatry movement sought to expose the institution of the family as the persecutor that both produced and dispatched so many to the brutality of the asylum. Anti-psychiatry drove at the foundations of both institutions. But in the process the asylum in its idea form, providing caring sanctuary from social violence has waned dangerously in the collective imagination not merely through the ideas of anti-psychiatry but the progressive devolution of responsibilities by the State.
To look back we can ask where did all the asylums go?

 

Thus not just in the world of psychiatry but in the greater context of the neoliberal social order, the politics of Laing's writing have a great deal of relevance across the social spectrum today. Reading Laing now feels like a process of refamiliarisation, revisiting the 'Laingian family' all over again in a new century that has stolen up on us.

 

 

I Remember a Time 2 page extract from the Hermeneutic Circular October 2015.