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The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise Paperback – 26 Apr 1990

4.6 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (26 April 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140134867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140134865
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 159,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

R.D. Laing, one of the best-known psychiatrists of modern times, was born in Glasgow in 1927 and graduated from Glasgow University as a doctor of medicine. In the 1960's he developed the argument that there may be a benefit in allowing acute mental and emotional turmoil in depth to go on and have its way, and that the outcome of such turmoil could have a positive value. He was the first to put such a stand to the test by establishing, with others, residences where persons could live and be free to let happen what will when the acute psychosis is given free rein, or where, at the very least, they receive no treatment they do not want. This work with the Philadelphia Association since 1964, together with his focus on disturbed and disturbing types of interaction in institutions, groups and families, has been both influential and continually controversial.

R.D. Laing's writings range from books on social theory to verse, as well as numerous articles and reviews in scientific journals and the popular press. His publications are: The Divided Self, Self and Others, Interpersonal Perception (with H. Phillipson and A. Robin Lee), Reason and Violence (introduced by Jean-Paul Sartre), Sanity, Madness and the Family (with A. Esterson), The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, Knots, The Politics of the Family, The Facts of Life, Do You Love Me?, Conversations with Children, Sonnets, The Voice of Experience and Wisdom, Madness and Folly.

R.D. Laing died in 1989. Anthony Clare, writing in the Guardian, said of him: "His major achievement was that he dragged the isolated and neglected inner world of the severely psychotic individual out of the back ward of the large gloomy mental hospital and on to the front pages of influential newspapers, journals and literary magazines... Everyone in contemporary psychiatry owes something to R.D. Laing."

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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By Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of his easiest books to comprehend but at the same time you would have to be immersed in the psychological field to get who it is aimed at. I recollect trying to read it years ago, after getting into psychology through therapy and not having the reference points to comprehend who the ire was being blasted at.

I have a great deal of sympathy with transactional analysis but came to the same conclusion as Laing on the fact it concentrates not on people and their experiences but on what they say. However I think TA can be rescued from mere technique to assist in a form of depth psychology when combined with the work of Adler. Adler is a stuffy stick in the mud about some things and enlightened being on others.

Laing's analysis of alienation and what constitutes normality, normalcy and the norm is the crux. For Laing it is not about applying a label to someone who is aberrant but how those who constitute the norm define themselves as normal. Because as Laing details those who create the rules when looked at from the results of their actions are pathological. This is particularly directed at "psychiatry" which rests upon falsifying empirical science by people who lack as theory of emotions (people who fall upon the Asperger's scale) who then dutifully label other people who do not fit their categories. Laing makes the point you can only label people from your own projections and beliefs. What is required is a reflection upon what is healthy rather than an assumption that it is due to what most people do with themselves.

For those who want to delve in Laing this is probably the best place to start to understand the concepts of alienation, normality, elusive self, schizophrenia, transcendence and a host of other concepts.
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Format: Paperback
No book on first reading has ever hit me with the force of this one.

Some of the content I don't buy: the focus on madness as a positive journey and the de-emphasis on inborn factors that may lead to "schizophrenia".

But as an example of compelling writing, of a writer putting his heart into his work, I don't know of any rival to this book.

But there's a lot more than writing style here. This is one of the strongest challenges to us "normal" folk about the potential we may have tossed away in exchange for a fit in our troubled society.

This isn't a book that tells us what to do or that sells some old tradition. This is a book that tells us how it seems ... to someone uniquely qualified and extraordinarily concerned about our well-being.

Laing was a great gift to the world and this is his greatest book.
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'The politics of experience' is a discussion about the differences that can exist between people because of differences in their conscious states.

Some people have never experienced passion, for example, and so may regard love as something purely physical. Others may have done so and matured emotionally having then sought and acquired an extensive vocabulary they share in common with everyone else which they use to communicate their experience.

Your maturity and knowledge act as a brake on how much you will understand, however, the book's content is not subjective.

Laing's view is that WE exist within our little culture - or as he puts it a straight jacket of conformity - and like anyone living and working within an abnormal system or environment are prone to errors. Laings view is that it's the systems we live in that are the problem, and not us. 96% of the time I expect he's right.
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As a psychiatric-call-arms this book is abit of a dog's dinner. Apart from the very last chapter everything here is taken from direct transcripts of Laing's lectures throughout the early 60s. The style & approach changes quite rapidly then: The first 3 chapters are abit Irving Goffman with possibly a hint of heidegger thrown in, and its probably only until chapter 4 that Laing starts to write in his own voice and becomes profound by way of personal experience; as opposed to whatever he was reading the week before.

And do you know, for all the accusations of self-indulgent anti-conformism, Laing is just about the most lucid, compassionate, rational and pragmatic philosopher of psychiatry imaginable. Once he gets going.

His main thesis also benefits from being devastatingly simple: If you want to know the best way to treat someone who's 'gone mad' ask someone who's 'been mad'. If you want to get better, allow yourself to go through the process of being unwell. If, as a culture, you want to be able to deal with your own mental spaces, give it a context with which it can be explored.

Of course even in 2009 this is still largely unrealised stuff. Psychotherapy has perhaps become somewhat more 'client-orientated', non-judgemental. We dont accept the dogmatic extremism of behaviourism quite like we used to, and can now acknowledge our private spaces, to some limited extent, once more.

Although this is all pretty meagre 'progress' from where we started out. We still treat mentally ill patients much the same as well did before, still erroneously refer to them as being 'ill', and in mainstream academia physicalism looks set to bring the spectre of behaviourism back to life all over again.
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