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.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 repetitive and has a tone that smacks of the mystic dialogue of the 70's revolutionary youth movement and Lao Tzu's mindfulness mumbo jumbo. It can leave you feeling that you understand a concept simply because you're only carried along by the cadence of the prose.
There is an element of validity to Laing's thesis that society is insane but it's presented at a superficial level and is cloaked in the radical coffee house banter of the Vietnam era that, at times, has the academic preachiness of a screed. Nonetheless, the text can be more useful in understanding the cultural mindset of that period than it can in helping understand and treat schizophrenia.
The first half of Chapter 4, Us & Them, is understandable in the framework of control theory with feedback loops but the second half veers off into New Left rhetoric with reference to Sartre's Marxist dialectic which can unintelligible in today’s culture. Laing’s articles have their origins within the transition between the Beat and the Hip culture and the influences of Taoism and Herbert Marcuse are clearly visible. Laing's ideas easily dovetail with the early prophets of the drug culture such as Leary and Castaneda.
The Schizophrenic Experience in Chapter 5 is presented from a clinical perspective rather than in New Left/New Age rhetoric of earlier chapters; hence more credible. According to Laing, schizophrenia has its origins in the separation between our inner self bereft of substance, our outer self bereft of meaning (i.e. alienation) and confusing the realities of one with the other. The concepts of We, Them, Us, and the Other presented in earlier chapters helps support Laing’s thesis that it's not really evident whose sane and who is not, viz. The Gadarene Swine Fallacy which seems to have originated by him.
Chapter 6 proceeds into transcendental experience (guided & purposeful) and its similarities to schizophrenia (unguided & terrifying). It is here that we see the outlines of Lessing's novel and his own subtle references to drug induced exploration of the 70s culture. Chapter 7 is a clinical transcription of a recovered schizophrenic patient and, although mundane, is helpful in understanding that a patient can occupy two worlds and can recollect the emotional impact of both.
The final chapter, The Bird of Paradise, is apparently Laing’s articulation of his own drug induced exploration of the schizophrenic state but it seems more like his foray into a new literary form than it being meant to support his thesis. His prose is neither mundane nor clinical but is related to us like a reading of a rambling Ginsberg poem using syntactically correct but meaningless sentences like Chomsky’s, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” In retrospect Lessing clearly articulates her character’s vivid schizophrenic experiences as well as the mundane clinical experiences. The schizophrenic experiences of her patient are lucid and have the “logic” of a dream sequence whereas Laing’s presentation in his Bird of Paradise may sound profound but is meaningless....more
This short novel relates the experience of a young woman, Josephine Traughton, during her recovery from a mental breakdown. The action takes place inThis short novel relates the experience of a young woman, Josephine Traughton, during her recovery from a mental breakdown. The action takes place in a mental institution in and around the English countryside he during the 1950s. The patronizing attitude of the institution’s staff and the therapeutic treatment of the patients lends a patina of the banality of something sinister just below the surface.
Dawson's language in first half of this short novel is understated and representative of Josephine’s quiescent emotional state with the exception of her uncanny recognition of the smallest of details in the features of others. Dawson’s description of a woman’s behavior within the social framework of the 1950s seems realistic and one wonders if this is a contributor of Josephine’s feeling of alienation. Dawson’s language in the second half is much more lucid as Josephine’s relates what she experiences and observes during a relapse brought on by a set of social interactions when she mechanically tries to fit in with the social norm of the period.
The ha-ha is a depression in the landscape overlooked by gardeners and filled with long soft grass and poppies. Lying between the hospital wall and the town below, one can lie invisible to passers-by and look out over the fields and country beyond existing in a state of suspension of the perfect moment. Symbolically it is a retreat between two worlds; the town representing structured social norms and the hospital, "the settlement," representing a medicated non-existence, neither of which Josephine can exist in.
In comparison Doris Lessing's novel “Briefing for a Decent into Hell,” the emotional world of Lessing's primary character, Professor Charles Watkins, is significantly deeper, extended, and dreamlike. The altered emotional states of both novels are related from the first person point of view and are logically consistent to the extent that stories of this type can only be narrated after the fact....more