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The Politics of Experience/The Bird of Paradise

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  1,006 ratings  ·  57 reviews
R.D. Laing is at his most wickedly iconoclastic in this eloquent assault on conventional morality. Unorthodox to some, brilliantly original to others, The Politics of Experience goes beyond the usual theories of mental illness and alienation, and makes a convincing case for the "madness of morality." Compelling, unsettling, consistently absorbing, The Politics of Experienc ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published August 12th 1983 by Pantheon (first published 1967)
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What if the "delusions" reported by patients during psychotic episodes were not symptoms of a disease, but valid descriptions of their experiences?

Laing describes schizophrenia as a kind of journey into the inner self, one that is misunderstood by people in the "normal" world and labelled as madness. Why do we misunderstand it? Because we are so alienated from our own inner worlds that we cannot comprehend someone else's experiences there. Indeed, we are so alienated that even the thought of go
Holly Lindquist

Is schizophrenia an understandable response to the unreasonable pressures of a terminally insane society? It's a notion with perennial appeal, one that's been brought up by many, many people (not just this guy). Certainly our modern world is a three-ring circus of demented behavior accepted as "normal". In a world of Honey Boo Boo, Beliebers, drone strikes, and mass government surveillance, the concept of what is "sane" or "normal" may just as well be vacationing off-planet at this point.

Esteban del Mal
Psychology as imperialism.

While the writing is at times clunky and some chapters are top-heavy with psycho-analyst speak -- gibberish to the non-specialist -- Liang does string together some powerful stuff at times:

“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough. It is potentially liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.”

“The family’s function is to repress Eros; to induce a false consciousness of security; to deny death by avoiding life; to cut off tr
I am having a hard time finding words for this book. It is ostensibly about Psychiatry, and a few sections treat that subject fairly specifically, but the more striking parts of the book seem to have a much more general significance. In particular, chapters 1, 3, and 4 are . . . woah. They are incredibly striking and left me stunned. It fits in a lot with Derrick Jensen themes, although his wording is much more severe and "prophetic" than Jensen's. Particularly, Chapter Four, Us and Them, takes ...more
The book starts off very theoretical, but once you get past the beginning it becomes entirely absorbing. It entirely changed my perspective from which to view mental illness, in a good way -- basically, Laing posits that we're all alienated from ourselves in some shape or form; those labelled schizophrenic just express this alienation in forms non-acceptable to mainstream society. His ideas were very liberating for me.
David Balfour
Offensively bad.

He completely denies the practicality of the (admittedly subjective) views society forces upon us regarding 'normality' and mental illness. While these are certainly an evil in themselves, they are necessary for the effective functioning of society which in turn is necessary for our physical and emotional security. A schizophrenic is dissociated from the collective reality and is thus less able to attain contentedness within it. Madness is the most profound form of loneliness and
Sep 08, 2007 Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: nobody
dear reader,

hello! what weather! welcome to another edition of "small talk" wherein i review a VERY recently published novel by an up-and-coming author! on the docket this week, it's "the politician's experience" by r.d. "swingin' low" laing (you may know his sister, k.d. laing!). ok, let's GO!


all previous psychiatry is fundamentally flawed.
what is considered "mental illness" is rather a healthy reaction to an oppressive society, and insane standards of living.
psychoses - s
Agostinho Paulo
I've found this easier to read and digest than "The Divided Self" which I read twice and still found myself thunderstruck( I will never forgive it for emotionally alienating me and fucking my brain cells up) and still felt like I had to read it again at some point i the future with a different mindset, till I came across a copy of "The Politics of Experience/The Bird of Paradise" while, lazily, browsing through a local secondhand bookstore, picked it without thinking twice. Best decision that da ...more
cras culture
I haven't really read anything quite like this before and found it very insightful. The part that kicks off the book with defining experience and the way interpersonal experience can be strident and tricky was excellent and set a great tone. I thought perhaps, however, his thesis that schizophrenia was a sort of right of passage that just needs those who suffer to come out the other side was somewhat challenging and edgy, but wonder how someone who presumably doesn't suffer from the disorder can ...more
Schizophrenia, in some cases, may be a healthy reaction to an unhealthy situation. Laing views society and the family as positively destructive to its members; that shared, naked experience with another human being is nearly impossible. He claims we connect with others only by forming an Us mentality where a nexus of kinship is formed, but in doing so the nexus necessarily excludes some group of others and calls it Them. By forming these nexuses we create antagonistic relationships with Them and ...more
I admit I haven't read this in years, not since my youth. I barely remember you. But I do remember you were one of those books that pretty much completely altered my perception of reality. And now that I've been out of therapy for a number of years I can say that remnants of that shattering are still there, and really more important now. Now that the "madness of morality" is a lot more evident in this world.

Even looking on later psychological events, like say the infamous Stanford Prison Experi
Cameron Rogers
R.D. Laing's best known work came out at a time of idealism, and "free love" when psychedelic drugs were briefly seen to possess the cure all to the woes of society. If only LBJ and Brezhnev could have sat down and dropped some acid we wouldn't have had 20 extended years of the Cold War dewwwwd.

This book lays out that idealism perfectly, and in perhaps one of the most bizarre and quite frankly incorrect theories ever put forward in psychedelic literature, Laing states that schizophrenia is an a
You can feel the feverishness of the writing as soon as it begins. Nonsensical in parts - a lot of words to communicate ideas that are neither complex nor thoroughly thought.

‘The sky is blue’ suggests that there is a substantive ‘sky’ that is ‘blue’. This sequence of subject verb object, in which ‘is’ acts as the copula uniting sky and blue, is a nexus of sounds, and syntax, signs and symbols, in which we are fairly completely entangled and which separates us from at the same time as it refers u
Someone else wrote this but I like what he said and it is what has always been in the back of my mind:

"What if the "delusions" reported by patients during psychotic episodes were not symptoms of a disease, but valid descriptions of their experiences?"

If someone has a dream you really can't say they did not live through that experience is what I would add.
A disturbing, compelling book about Schizophrenia, a disease that is hard to treat. Because mental health professionals know so little about the brain, helping Schizophrenics is difficult. This book raises interesting questions. Are Schizophrenics crazy or are they enlightened individuals who don't fit in?
I didn't like this book as much as I wanted to. However, there are some great passages!

For example:

Few books today are forgivable. Black on the canvas, silence on the screen, an empty white sheet of paper, are perhaps feasible. There is little conjunction of truth and social 'reality'. Around us are pseudo-events, to which we adjust with a false consciousness adapted to see these events as true and real, and even as beautiful. In the society of men the truth resides now less in what things are t
Although written in the era of the 3 minute warning and when child beating was a perk of a teaching career,this examination and analysis of the causes of mental disturbance still resonates, as its subjects are the timeless ones that mediate our inner experiences, particularly in relation to other people and the wider society we live in.Although the external landscape has changed since it was written the human condition remains exactly the same.
Much of the authors point of view is summed up by
This is a very tricky book to navigate. Laing is now regarded at the forefront of the "anti-psychiatry movement", which is a clumsy sort of term, but consequently this work can be seen as lionizing madness or condemning useful treatment. Certainly this is the prevailing perception of Laing's aims today.

Yet, there is much to be said about his analysis of the intersection of the subject and society, and the folly of attempting to analyze the subject in isolation (that is, separate from the act of
Tiffany Reddick
Contains some really interesting ideas. Laing writes in an earth-shattering way that keeps you reading. I do wish he wrote like more modern authors, though, with more examples; it's mostly abstract and negating in the first chapter--and that's all my class has assigned me to read. I want to read more, though, because how can you read the starting point, "a man alienated from its source creation arises from despair and ends in failure," without knowing how to go beyond: "where it all ends, there ...more
"The Politics Of Experience" doesn't just cover schizophrenia, but a range of psychological disorders, which Laing attributes to the conditioning of society at large.

He posits that many psychological ills result from the pressures of conforming to a 'mad' society. He also posits that traditional psychiatry isn't really addressing the root causes. These notions seem quaint now, but at the time the book was published, I suspect it caused a furore within the profession.

Laing himself added to the co
With a penetrating perspective mediated through simple prose, many have regarded the Politics of Experience as R.D. Laing's crowning jewel. I am forced to agree. PoE is rich with deep insights and yet unburdened by a maze of theories (which, if one is so inclined, can be found in his other superb books, such as Self and Others and The Politics of the Family).

We are, for the most part, estranged from the inner world. Case in point: Most of us are unaware of its very existence. Thus, as R.D. Laing
Changes and challenges your view of the world: inter-group relations, Schizophrenia, madness, and sanity. Leaves you with interesting thoughts, if you cannot be sure about a man's sanity, how can you make assumptions about a man's insanity? And that "madness may not always be a breakdown, it might be a breakthrough'
Robert Wullenschneider
this was a mind-blowing book to read as a young man coming of age in the sixties and a few words, it's lasting premise is that 'everything is political' in the broadest sense of the word...and the subtle truth that the decision to view the world 'objectively' is itself a 'subjective' choice
The first part of Laing’s book has a number of messages for those like me with dependent personalities. We’re clearly not the target audience of the book, but in addition to the authorial meaning, which isn’t too hard to grasp for me, being familiar with schizophrenia, the medical institution, and the application of the latter to the former, there are some lovely tidbits of commentary about our society, some lovely gems of phenomenology, and some fun games for thinking. It’s not the most well wr ...more
Interesting read on perception, consciousness, id/ego etc. Quite Jungian in my mind...a fun juant.
"Τουλάχιστον μερικοί από μας κατάφεραν να μισήσουν αυτό που μας έκαναν να είμαστε"
An interesting blend of phenomenology, existentialism, with a strong critique of reductionist Freudian psychoanalysis.
According to Laing, alienation is pervasive and we have lost touch with our ability to fantasize, dream, and remember our lives. People are shells of what they can be and people experiencing "psychosis" are just in touch with a sort of consciousness that the rest of us have repressed. The main thesis of the book is that psychosis and mental illness is not deviance or abnormality
Gary Nelson
Dec 09, 2014 Gary Nelson marked it as to-read
Recommended by Derrick Jensen
Erik C
Existentialist psychologicalist RD Laing takes a phenomenological look at interpersonal interaction. This yields a few really satisfying tidbits like when he documents love as an economy of violence and bribery that we are all brought into as soon as we are born.

Mommmy loves you.

This book is short and satisfying in finding (supposedly and as history has shown, not quite) practical medicinal uses of existential thought, but it fails ask any new questions.
Erik Graff
Jul 21, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Laing fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: psychology
This is a short collection which, as I recall, contains the most substantial piece I've seen by Laing about psychedelic drugs. I read the thing in the midst of studying a lot of other work by him and his colleagues in "the antipsychiatry movement" in the context of doing independent study work in the nebulous field of "humanistic psychology" in college. The essay, "The Bird of Paradise", appears to have been written under the influence.
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Ronald David Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness – in particular, the subjective experience of psychosis. Laing's views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, greatly influenced by existential philosophy, ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descrip ...more
More about R.D. Laing...
The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness Knots Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics Self and Others The Politics of the Family and Other Essays

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“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.” 98 likes
“The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.” 41 likes
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