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The Politics of Experience/The Bird of Paradise

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,646 ratings  ·  104 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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Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.

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
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Aug 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Erik Graff
Jul 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-psychiatry
In content, Laing was a bit like Philip K. Dick was to science fiction. Both write about how alienation leads to dissociation and other alterations in consciousness. Some parts remind me of the darker sentences in VALIS, Ubik or A Scanner Darkly.

In style, Laing was a bit like Nietzsche was to existential philosophy. Both write concise polemics integrating a lot of former theories into a highly stylised, radical and practical summary. Both seem highly readable at first, but are actually more unde
Ricardo Acuña
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, psychology
One of the best books I have ever read, where Laing exposes the real nature of our social madness. The world in which we live, inevitably leads us to alignment, and make us blind. We can see other people’s behavior, but not their experience. Therefore, the experience of each other are inaccessible, invisible, and interpreted through the observed behavior. Laing says that psychiatrists have paid very little attention to the experience of the patient and the diagnosis, psychotherapy and treatment ...more
Roberta McDonnell
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Even more mindblowing!!
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pschology
I was attracted to Laing’s book because it has been said to be a source of Doris Lessing’s novel, A Briefing for a Decent into Hell, which she denied. Laing’s text is a compilation of reworked articles he published between 1962 and 1965 and center on human perception and its relationship to schizophrenia of society as a whole.

Existential relationships are characterized in terms of experience and behavior within the framework a feedback loop but Laing’s method of presentation seems to be too rep
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pure-theory
cute prose poem

oh, and a 100 page preface on intersubjectivity, social construction and existentialism, outlining how schizophrenic behaviours arise as defense mechanisms to disturbing social realities, behaviours which are further exacerbated by the subjugation, imprisonment and control of such persons labelled as schizophrenic, and how insanity in an insane world may be the only sane action left for some, for to lose one's ego but to reach the archetypal void of one's self is the first step to
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What started out as a promising and innovative read has turned out to be a disappointment. While Laing's writing is much clearer than many other psychoanalyst's I've come across, the evidence for his claims is shotty at best. The Politics of Experience is a book that tries to fundamentally tackle the claim that mental illness (particularly schizophrenia) is a natural reaction to an insane human social world. While a part of me would like to believe this - as to do so implies that mental illness ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
A very difficult read, it speaks to its time, (the 60's). He mixes talk about mental illness with social theory. I had trouble following it. But I think you should give it a shot.
Osama Mehmood
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
The dreadful has already happened!
Cliff Moyce
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful stuff (and recommended) but a bit of a mish-mash of existential philosophy, the difficulties of traditional psychiatry, and RD Laing’s preferred approaches.

I recommend watching the film “Did you use to be RD Laing” on YouTube to help bring the book to life.
Sean A.
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
May 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: psychologistical
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
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 12, 2011 rated it liked it
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?
Robert Wullenschneider
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
May 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Interesting read on perception, consciousness, id/ego etc. Quite Jungian in my mind...a fun juant.
Dylan Vieites Glennon
For being over 50 years, it is still a brilliant book and enlightening on matters such as schizophrenia by calling into question the concepts of what is normal and what is not.

How we have become who we are and how our experiences of the world are shaped by the notion of society. Although, I disagree with the idea of each baby being born being a stone age baby getting born into today's age and thus having to have everything put onto them as their concepts are very close to that of a blank slate.
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's always difficult for me to review books that I read for research because I'm viewing them with such critical eye. I definitely do not buy into Laing's ideas, which would normally result in a lower rating, but I think they're absolutely fascinating. To me, this is the height of the thinking about mental illness in the 1960s, the extreme logical conclusion of the theories of the time. It is incredibly fascinating and immensely problematic - there were multiple points where I just could not be ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
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
2,5 stars

This book is certainly important and at times refreshingly experimental, but I can't bring myself to really like it. I think Laing is at his best when he describes the effects of society on individuals with great analytical clarity (as he does in the chapters 'The mystification of experience' and 'Us and them'), hence the aptly named "The politics of experience", and at his worst when he talks about the self-healing effects of psychotic episodes (see chapters 'Transcendental experience'
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bob by: Matthew, Christopher
Shelves: owned
Written half a century ago, Laing's brilliant work captures the very essence of the great dilemma of modern humanity: what is real, and how can we truly understand and relate to our own experiences and the experiences and selves of others? What is really psychological illness, and what is merely connection to a different perception of reality? A marvelous challenge to each of us to search both within and without for truth and our connections to the world, and the people, around us.
Seekers of Unity
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great little work, bashing society, epic accounts from schizophrenics from their trips that sound exactly like trips of mysticism, says we should talk about schizophrenics as having not breakdowns but breakthroughs and should have a shaman by their side to guide them through. I’m a fan of this guy.

If you like books like this you'll love my project:
Lots of mind blowing perspective but also already dated. It’s when he mentions how the Vietnam war is still raging you remember how much has changed since time of writing, especially with attitude to care and education. Quite extreme in his subjective view of reality, as if all visions are ultimately as true as any other, which is valid of course but it’s almost as if we have gone too far that way so it comes across as slightly naive! At the time it was certainly needed.
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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

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There's something great about a paperback book: They're perfect book club choices, you can throw them in your bag and go, and they've been out in...
40 likes · 15 comments
“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.” 150 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.” 78 likes
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