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Knots

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R.D. Laing's new book marks a fascinating departure—in form and content—from his previous works. Knots is unlike any other book, consisting of a series of powerful, witty, unexpected dialogue-scenarios that can be read as poems or brief plays, each complete in itself. Each chapter describes a different kind of relationship—the "knots" of the title—bonds of love, dependency, uncertainty, jealousy. The dialogues could be those between lovers, between parents and children, between analysts and patients—or all of these merged together. Each brilliantly demonstrates Laing's marvelous insights into the intricacies of human relationships, displaying his talents not only as an analyst but as a poet and playwright.

96 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1970

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About the author

R.D. Laing

49 books426 followers
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 descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder.

Laing was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement although he rejected the label.

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5 stars
431 (32%)
4 stars
492 (37%)
3 stars
281 (21%)
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73 (5%)
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36 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
936 reviews17.6k followers
January 15, 2023
Once you Really begin to wake up, there’s no stopping you. Oh, the Massed Forces of Hades will do everything possible to make you do just that - and direct you into a heavy diagnostic Pit Stop for rebooting.

But our strength is in our weakness, as Paul says.

And by failing and failing, again and again, to undo the Knots mean folks keep tying up again - and getting up again from the dust of our defeated rebooting each time, knowing there IS a way through it all - we WILL succeed.

And we WILL get to the End - which is our Beginning.

It’s not pleasant.

But once we’ve heard that distant call of Hope, we won’t mind.

Sure, we’ll be battered. Sure, we’ll be beaten within inches of our lives.

But once we’ve heard that Call - and understand that we’re saved by Hope - we’ll gain the humility to continue.

When I was young, the Knots overwhelmed me. But I had had an ‘intuition of Being’, a vision of a Clear Space where ALL the Knots would be loosened.

Fanatical? Just a dumb, childish, feeling? Weakness, as the world says?

I disagree, with ALL my heart.

I could never give up.

The truly great thinkers have started Right There. Even dour Hegel insisted from the outset on a clear, intuitive grasp of Being.

You may not realize it, but to start with such an intuition of the pure goodness of Being, we have to come to it as basically good people. Like I was as a kid, before my teen years.

In fact, I retained the whole armour of primordial goodness up until I was 20. But permissive society didn’t share my enthusiasm. In fact, permissiveness decided to put the boots to me.

Some facets of our world’s legal framework are grasped only by sophisticates. Be that as it may, when I ended my bitter tenure under much more experienced and cynical arbiters of law than I, I still would not recant.

And I had no logical reason offered to me for renouncing my innocent “apostasy.” Might doesn’t always make right. And somehow my faith and hope endured.

And if you’ve never seen how Weakness Loosens Knots, you will when the crunch comes.

For sure, they will throw EVERYTHING at you. But whole cities have fallen to the weakness of a good soul, as they fell like dominoes to little King David.

If you take it humbly and try to muddle through, you will see the Light of Morning - as long as you have Hope, and Love.

Back in 1971, on an emergency run that New Year’s Eve, I chatted with a couple of psychiatric medical interns about RD Laing’s books. I rather sophomorically dissected The Politics of Experience as a variant on the Quest Archetype.

They may have been impressed that a liberal arts dabbler and then-English Major was reading abstruse psychological books like Laing’s, I don’t know. But they saved my sophomore uni year from disaster as a result.

I do know that Laing, in his all-to-brief life, was a bit like hopeful little me... and my idol, William Blake.

Like Blake, he had an awfully warm and fuzzy feeling that EMPATHIZING with folks instead of just giving a diagnosis, prescription and pill was one end of a Golden Thread... that when followed, would lead to a Healing of Mind, Body and Soul.

You HAD to read Laing in those years. The awakening that invigorated young people around the world in the late sixties was now bearing fruit in the staid adult world of traditional disciplines.

And things were gonna change...

Laing died as he would like to have died - in motion.

He suffered a massive coronary while playing a vigorous game of tennis. Like Custer, he died with his boots on.

We still miss him.

The door of Hades has since been barred in retreat from empaths like him. But the infernal powers are simply retrenching...

You know, liberation isn’t one battle. It’s the little skirmishes of an Entire Life - of a life that REFUSES TO QUIT.

So yes, you CAN untie your Knots. All of ‘em. Not overnight, not in five or ten years, but Eventually.

And you know what else?

Eternity is Endless. So relax and just continue doing the right thing.

What knots we don’t untie God WILL.

And He’ll make us all NEW again because of it.

ALL the time, without fail.
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,217 reviews1,007 followers
February 18, 2022
An unusual work by the Scottish psychoanalyst R.D.Laing, Knots is a book of poems, or dialogues, dating from 1971. Each poem describes a different kind of relationship, indicating the knots people will tie themselves into through preconception or misunderstanding. Laing calls them "tangles, disjunctions, impasses or binds". The relationship might be that of parent and child, lovers or analysts. The bonds can be of love, dependency, uncertainty or jealousy. Sometimes the relationship is obvious, but in other poems it becomes apparent through the dialogue.

In his introduction Laing comments, "They are all, perhaps, strangely, familiar." The patterns of language he uses are simplistic and common. With its short lines and repetitious spare vocabulary the book reads rather like a reading primer - or a very basic book in logic. Since the relationships are often familiar to us too, his comment is not very surprising. The poems themselves can indeed best be described as someone "tying themselves in knots". If these thoughts were spoken out loud, those voicing them would be accused by the majority of overanalysing the situation.

It is interesting to consider whether this is a subjective experience of mental illness. Laing challenged psychiatric diagnosis itself, famously stating that schizophrenia was, "a theory not a fact", or that a so-called psychotic episode could be an attempt to communicate worries and concerns in situations where this was not possible, or not permitted. He never actually denied the existence of mental illness - indeed he admitted that he was a clinical depressive himself - but unlike his contemporaries Laing believed it could be a transformative experience. He considered that in the future we would view schizophrenia as, "one of the forms in which light begins to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds." He viewed mental illness as a kind of journey from which a person could return with important insights, enabling them to become a wiser and more grounded person as a result.

R.D. Laing wrote a considerable number of works, mainly studies into forms of mental illness and his own developed theories of psychotherapy. This particular book is unique in that it is such an accessible book of poems, yet it reveals many of the ways Laing believed ordinary people tie themselves in knots. Many of his colleagues believed he had a brilliant mind that had somehow gone wrong. (His family had a tradition of mental illness.) Some even viewed him as actually psychotic himself. But these poems are startling and revealing in their simplicity; in their assertion that any one of us may find themselves in situations which feel impossible because they have no right answer. Who is to define which behaviour then is "mad."
Profile Image for Rachel.
141 reviews52 followers
May 29, 2012
AAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!
Profile Image for Liam O'Leary.
468 reviews112 followers
October 19, 2020
Poetry by a psychiatrist. This is what you get if you applied Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to relationship failures. See far below for quoted examples.

This is one of R.D. Laing's best, more coherent but less visionary than The Bird of Paradise.

According to my principles I should rate this a 4*, as I reserve 5* as a strong recommendation for all readers, and without very close attention this will seem like nonsense to many readers (as is the case for all poetry). But I'm very much on Laing's wavelength. I give it 5* as I think this poem summarizes the logic of relationship failures, in a way that provides a fundamental, deep and timeless understanding of emotions. It's essentially condensing archetypal patterns in relationship disputes, and so it saves a lot of mental processing time normally demanded to recognize and increase our chances of intentionally avoiding these written, spoken and thought patterns in our own experiences, should we wish to avoid or diffuse interpersonal (or even intrapersonal) conflict.

As you might tell from the way I have written this review, Knots might be especially helpful for people who have trouble understanding or predicting emotion intuitively, or for those who struggle to empathize with the other side of an argument, or for those looking to logically impose sense and order to their emotions about the 'other' (things and people) or how they feel about themselves (self-expression). It's sincere, quirky, chaotic, barbaric, hilarious, sad — but ultimately, caring.

My Summary/Analysis:
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after
—Jack & Jill

Knots is a logical breakdown of every argument possible, based on how one's identity is affected by others.

Knots form between people when they fail to openly communicate their feelings.

Numbered chapters (to which I gave my own interpretative titles, in parentheses):

1. (Family)
First vs. third person (indirectly, by way of second)

he doesn't respect you
for not punishing him
for not respecting you


2. (Love)
First vs. second person

Forgive me
No
I'll never forgive you for not forgiving me


3. (Memory)
First vs. first person

You may know what I don't know, but not
that I don't know it,
and I can't tell you. So you will have to tell me everything.


4. (Hostility)
First vs. self

Can each become frightened of being
frightened and of frightening
instead of being frightened
not to be frightened
and not to frighten


5. (Formal Proposition)
{I am not what I say I am, therefore...} [repeat]
Or:
{My true identity is outside of language}


'All forms point to the formless'
is itself a formal proposition
[...]
The statement is pointless
The finger is speechless
Profile Image for Susan Budd.
Author 6 books204 followers
June 9, 2021
My jewelry box has small compartments for delicate items. In these compartments I place pendants on fine chains. I lay them carefully inside and close the lid. What happens in my jewelry box while the lid is closed I do not know. But when I next open the lid, there are knots. Tight ones that defy my fingernails. They can usually be unknotted with needle-nose pliers and a great deal of patience. Though sometimes a jeweler may be needed.
Profile Image for Luisa.
6 reviews
January 16, 2013
Heartbreaking ironies.


What an interesting finger
let me suck it.

It's not an interesting finger
take it away.

— Page 89.



The statement is pointless.
The finger is speechless.

— Page 90.
Profile Image for soulAdmitted.
255 reviews53 followers
October 29, 2017
"Narciso s'innamorò della sua immagine credendola
un'altra.

Giovanni s'innamora dell'immagine che Maria s'è fatta di Giovanni
credendola sé.
Lei non deve morire, perché lui allora perderebbe se stesso.

Lui è geloso nel caso che l'immagine di un qualche altro
si rifletta nello specchio di lei.

Maria è a se stessa specchio deformante.
Maria deve deformare se stessa per apparire
non deformata ai propri occhi.

Per ritrovare la sua immagine non deformata, Maria trova in Giovanni
chi le deforma l'immagine deformata nel di lui specchio deformante.
Lei spera che se lui deforma la di lei immagine deformata
ciò possa ristabilire la sua immagine non deformata
senza che lei abbia a deformare se stessa".

Omaggi e ossequi, deferenti e commossi, all'informale Ronald David Laing.
63 reviews
January 3, 2011
An odd book and one that took me several years of self-exploration to really "get". "Knots" is a guidebook to the patterns that play out in relationships between people. It doesn't offer solutions, or even advice on how not to play the game(s). What it does offer is a decent map of how the cycles can play out, what parts we sometimes play. Sometimes just being able to look from the outside and see what the pattern is can allow us to pick it apart or even to opt out. It's certainly not a comfortable read, but I find myself going back to it whenever I find myself overwhelmed by a social situation or confused as to how or why people are interacting with me the way that they are.
Profile Image for Vincent Scarpa.
548 reviews151 followers
May 25, 2017
Probably there is no helpful way of talking about this book. Why and how it gripped me and moved me and challenged me and taught me and thrilled me and tickled me and even (productively) infuriated me--trying to pin any of it down seems futile.

I say, read it, and know that either you will hate it and find it a complete waste of time OR you will be very glad to have it in your life.
Profile Image for K.
74 reviews12 followers
June 13, 2007
Opening chunk:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not
playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I
shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

It's pretty much all like that.
Profile Image for Aslı Can.
655 reviews206 followers
Read
September 19, 2018
Duygulara ve ikili ilişkilerin doğasına dair anlatmak istediği meseleye aşinayım ve benim de dert edindiğim şeyler aslında. Ama okurken tekrarın tekrarının tekrarı ile beni çıldırttı. Tam bir delirme kitabı.
1 review
February 20, 2009
Pure madness.
Philip Glass of poetry.
This was my introduction to R.D. Laing, who has written several amazing books.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,781 reviews4,987 followers
Want to read
October 21, 2014
The patterns delineated here have not yet been classified by a Linnaeus of human bondage.
They are all, perhaps, strangely, familiar.
In these pages I have confined myself to laying out
only some of those I actually have seen. Words that
come to mind to name them are: knots, tangles,
fankles, impasses, disjunctions, whirligogs, binds.
I could have remained closer to the ‘raw’
data in which these patterns appear. I could
have distilled them further towards an abstract
logico-mathematical calculus. I hope they are not so
schematized that one may not refer back to the
very specific experiences from which they derive;
yet that they are sufficiently independent of ‘content’, for
one to divine the final formal elegance in these
webs of maya.
Profile Image for Anna.
50 reviews
Read
October 8, 2009
I love this book. I read it off the shelf when I was young. I was enthralled. It is more of a nostalgic thing now. But it is still fun. Massagingly therapeutic to work through the puzzles. I mark it here in an almost humorous way. But at a certain stage, it is interesting. Foodly for the early separator. To the already-separated, it will be banal. Don't ask me what I mean by separated - I made it up! Actually to the already superseded and already cured, it could be embarrassing to witness those traps... but maybe that is a 'knot' in itself!

Date read is a guess... could have been late elementary school or jr. high or both. Maybe 9th grade. Not sure. It was around, and, "that weird book on the shelf".
Profile Image for Adam.
28 reviews6 followers
February 22, 2014
Ridiculously good. Made my brain hurt with a lot of the recursive writing. The rambling, the loss of meaning, the recursion, and the social critique was amazing. There's nothing like not being able to move past a page with 6 lines for like 5 minutes. The first poem is still my favorite.
Profile Image for sevvalsinem.
31 reviews13 followers
January 2, 2018
Dil ve iletişimsizlik üzerine kurulmuş cümlelerin, adına yaraşır şekilde düğüm edildiği bir eser. Çok daha derin anlamlar içeriyor olabilir, bilemiyorum. Fakat ben kıyıda dolanıp durdum.
Profile Image for Scot.
438 reviews29 followers
August 2, 2011
All in all
Each man in all men
All me in each man

All being in each being
Each being in all being

All in each
Each in all

All distinctions are mind, by mind, in mind, of mind
No distinctions no mind to distinguish

In "Knots," author R.D. Laing portrays the innumerable webs we weave in our mind that tangle and fray and continue on and on and on and on until what was at the root likely a simple misunderstanding or words unspoken becomes something so deep seeded that we are unable to untie them and begin again free and clear of whatever or however we got where we are.

Endlessly repetitive poetry the reader is left to spin and hopefully feel how this process has effected and affected him or her. So simple yet brilliant, ultimately asking the reader to examine the mundane in order to be set free.

For anyone on a journey of self discovery I highly recommend this!
Profile Image for Dyary Abubakr.
Author 1 book14 followers
March 1, 2016
Insanity..
Poetry of insanity.

This book is a demonstration of relationships between people, R.D. Laing calls those relationships knots, tangles, fankles, impasses,
disjunctions, whirligogs, binds. and indeed they are 'knots'.
as I said it only demonstrates the knots, doesn't offer a solution or a way of untying the knots, It just shows them as they are.
but the complexity of the book and its way of presenting the knots has reached the highest levels.
Sometimes you are certain that you understand what he means, but after a moment you realize that it is far far away of what you thought it is, you don't know what he means, maybe he doesn't mean anything, maybe it is for you to give a meaning to the knot, and maybe only maybe you can find a way to untie that knot if only you could find it between those perplexing, mysterious, baffling lines.
13 reviews4 followers
May 18, 2010
Logic homework for cognitive therapists?
"Knots" is a collection of "poems"(?) which resemble circuitous dialogues or logical progressions..
You begin with a thought, which reflexively leads to another, and so on- ultimately producing a tangled mess of paradoxical neurotic beliefs, a knot (added to this are your thoughts about what another person is thinking, and what they think you are thinking, so on).
These knots lead to constricted action and dilemmas in interpersonal situations.
The final knots resemble Buddhist koans, and use language to show the limits of symbolic/reflexive thinking itself.

"Knots" may be useful as a means of recognizing patterns of automatic thinking in our own lives.
Profile Image for Robert Mooney.
94 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2008
If you can read this book and understand it through to the end, you will be able to understand anything, most of all yourself. Simple phrases become almost indecipherable knots, woven back and forth and inside out. Pick it up and read a few pages. You'll want to throw it across the room, but keep at it. I've been trying to understand since '73. It gets a little easier to comprehend each time and, as I grow older, a little easier to retrieve. I can't throw as hard or as far as I used to.
Profile Image for Rob.
Author 1 book
October 12, 2011
Found this among my old books. I first read it in the 70s, after Gentle Giant put some of it to music on one of their albums. My English teacher thought is was "doggerel". After having been through some 'knots' in relationships myself, it now seems a bit like John Cleese's Families and how to survive them. And it rhymes now and then.
Profile Image for Paul Adkin.
Author 9 books18 followers
November 16, 2014
This was a seminal book for me. After finishing it The Jack and Jill Story came gushing out on a stream of consciousness. An hour later I had practically finished what was to be one of my more successful plays.
Profile Image for Rand.
474 reviews97 followers
August 6, 2015
A Gordian (k)not in text strung upon the wait of the word.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,757 reviews638 followers
September 19, 2016
Knots form when human beings try to communicate...good book to read to give you ideas on untying the knots we tie and that others tie for us.
Profile Image for Dharini.
114 reviews9 followers
November 13, 2021
Knots is unlike anything I've ever read. Poetry and psychology have had a deeply insightful but sometimes frustrating child together.

The book is a slim volume of verses that takes a premise and then twists it into every permutation you can think of, until your head is swimming with seemingly commonplace words that suddenly make no sense. It reads not unlike a child who asks you why, why, why and builds on a question endlessly until you yell, "That's just how it is!".

But it's also got the ability to make you deeply reflect on the nature of human interaction - between you and your parents, your lover, yourself. And on the nature of language itself; the change in placement of a comma or a space inverts the meaning of a sentence, and two reads of the same line have subtly different meanings. You can't help but marvel at a mind that engineered such a feat.
Profile Image for Frances Margaret.
24 reviews18 followers
December 7, 2014
Your opinion of this book will depend on your mood when you pick it up. There were times when I was drawn deeply into the sequence of thought in the dialogue. Other times, I developed a headache and resorted to throwing it aside for perusal at a better time.

I wonder what he must have taken to write something like this. The dialogues are extremely paranoid with obsessive use of language. At some point it would appear that the characters are desperate.

So many layers are used to arrive at a single point that at a glance, the entire book would appear absurd. The amount of focus it takes to write this is impressive, though. It presents itself as something close to a performance art. There are some profound moments in the midst of all the white noise. The dilemmas presented hit so close to home.

If the book starts to make you feel sick, don't give up. You might need to take a break from it, but do finish it.
Profile Image for Ned.
7 reviews3 followers
August 10, 2008
Knots is half poetry, half psychology. In a series of poems varying in length, Laing lays out the excruciatingly illogical thought patterns that we all go through in as simple a manner as possible, almost like paradoxical equations. Of course, some of these thought patterns are still thoroughly complicated and confusing, and so this book requires a lot of concentration in order to understand it. It will frustrate you, but it's worth the effort.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews

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