R. D. Laing Criticism - Essay

Forrest Williams (review date 6 January 1966)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Reason and Violence, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXIII, No. 1, January 6, 1966, pp. 26-8.

[In the following review of Reason and Violence, Williams maintains that, while Laing's summaries of Jean-Paul Sartre's Saint Genet: Comédien et martyr (Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr; 1952), Questions de méthode (Search for a Method; 1963), and Critique de la raison dialectique (Critique of Dialectical Reason; 1960) are accurate and succinct, the book fails to make Sartre's ideas accessible to the reader unfamiliar with his philosophical terminology.]

Reason and Violence is a résumé of the three major works written by Jean-Paul Sartre in the fifties. In a brief foreword, Sartre himself praises the book of R. D. Laing and D. G. Cooper as "a very clear and faithful exposition." There can be no question, indeed, of the economy and accuracy of their summaries of Saint Genet, Questions de méthode, and volume I of Critique de la raison dialeclique, "Théorie des ensembles pratiques." But precisely because these are entirely faithful condensations, one is hard put to conceive the Anglo-American reader to whom the book will be useful. Sartre's philosophic prose is among the most ungrateful in the twentieth century, and a faithfully miniaturized version in English can be of little help to the uninitiated. The two shorter sections,...

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Robert Coles (review date 13 May 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Life's Madness," in The New Republic, Vol. 156, No. 19, May 13, 1967, pp. 24-8, 30.

[Coles is an American psychiatrist, educator, nonfiction writer, essayist, and poet whose particular area of interest is the psychological development of children; he is the author of, among other works, The Spiritual Life of Children (1990). In the following review of The Politics of Experience, he praises Laing's literary skills and the ways in which he articulates his views regarding "the demonic and chaotic in man" and modern psychotherapy's approach to madness.]

One of the ways psychiatrists have sorted themselves out in recent years has to do with the...

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Rollo May (review date 20 May 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Frontiers of Being Human," in Saturday Review, Vol. L, No. 20, May 20, 1967, pp. 37-9.

[May was an internationally known American psychiatrist, minister, and educator who wrote many books on psychology for lay readers. Regarded as the father of existential psychotherapy in the United States, May eschewed many of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic principals and focused on anxiety and its impact on human behavior. In the following favorable review of The Politics of Experience, he applauds Laing's challenge to conventional psychiatric theories and contends that, by emphasizing the importance of life experiences, Laing "humanizes" schizophrenia and takes "important steps...

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Marshall Berman (review date 22 February 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Divided Self and The Self and Others, in The New York Times Book Review, February 22, 1970, p. 1-2, 44.

[Berman is an American professor of political science, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following review of The Divided Self and The Self and Others, he favorably assesses the development of Laing's theory and method for the treatment of schizophrenia, contrasting it with "the prophetic, evangelical (some would say, messianic) tone" of The Politics of Experience.]

For a great many Americans, particularly young Americans, the 1960's were a time in which two of the deepest streams of...

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James S. Gordon (review date 13 December 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Knots, in The New York Times Book Review, December 13, 1970, p. 6.

[In the following favorable review of Knots, Gordon discusses how Laing uses the themes of communication and interpersonal relationships as "patterns … of human bondage" in his poetry.]

At the beginning of his first book, The Divided Self, R. D. Laing quoted the French psychiatrist Minkowski: "This is a subjective work which tries with all its might to be objective."

For the last 12 years, in eight books and numerous articles, Laing has, to the dismay of much of orthodox psychiatry, pushed his own subjectivity to its limits. He has returned...

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Alan Tyson (review date 11 February 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Homage to Catatonia," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XVI, No. 2, February 11, 1971, pp. 3-4, 6.

[Tyson is a Scottish psychiatrist, musicologist, and author of several studies on Beethoven. In the following review, in which he examines seven of Laing's major works, he discusses such themes as the role of the family and society in the development of an individual's pathologies, the influence of fantasy and spirituality in the development of self-identity, and Laing's abiding effort "to make madness, and the process of going mad, comprehensible."]

In theory the publication of a substantially revised edition of R. D. Laing's The Self and Others, and...

(The entire section is 4566 words.)

Richard Sennett (review date 3 October 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Politics of the Family, and Other Essays, in The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1971, pp. 2-3, 40-41

[Sennett is an American sociologist and educator. In the following unfavorable review of The Politics of the Family, he charges that Laing's "thought has disintegrated dramatically" and that he "has lost that capacity to dream which is necessary in any enduring radical vision."]

In a moment of anger in his new book, R. D. Laing writes, "Our own cities are our own animal factories; families, schools, churches, are the slaughterhouses of our children; colleges and other places are the kitchens. As adults in marriages and...

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David Martin (essay date 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "R. D. Laing," in The New Left, edited by Maurice Cranston, The Library Press, 1971, pp. 179-208.

[In the following excerpt, Martin summarizes Laing's views on society and the family and his theory and method for the treatment of schizophrenia. He also argues that Laing's work is characterized by generalities, exaggerations, and undeveloped ideas, stating: "(Laing is) on the fringes of the irrationalist Left which stigmatizes and condemns all aspects of socialization and civilization as injurious to truth and the individual's being."]

Ronald Laing must be accounted one of the main contributors to the theoretical and rhetorical armoury of the contemporary Left....

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David Martin (review date February 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Me Doctor, You Patient," in Encounter, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, February, 1972, pp. 71-6.

[In the following review of The Politics of the Family, Martin argues that while Laing's subject matter is fascinating and his style is compelling, he is polemical and defensive regarding his theories about madness and the family/society relationship.]

This latest collection of Dr Laing's sermons will appeal to all those who follow the publications of the North London Pulpit. The rhetoric [in The Politics of the Family] is brilliant, the expository style persuasive, the content intriguing. Unlike Dr. Cooper, his fellow preacher, Ronald Laing is not so much a...

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Robert Boyers (essay date Winter 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Laingian Family," in Partisan Review, Vol. XLI, No. 1, Winter, 1974, pp. 109-18.

[Boyers is an American psychologist and educator whose written works include Psychological Man: Approaches to an Emergent Social Type (1974). In the following excerpt, he discusses the influence of Wilhelm Reich on Laing's work and explores the development of Laing's notion that madness is comprehensible and that the family plays a pivotal role in the creation of a schizophrenic personality.]

The attack on the nuclear family will probably turn out to be the most important development of our period, a phenomenon beside which other militancies, of whatever character, will...

(The entire section is 1638 words.)

Rosemary Dinnage (review date 5 August 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Over the Edge," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXIII, No. 13, August 5, 1976, pp. 38-9.

[In the following excerpt from a review of Laing's The Facts of Life and David Reed's Anna, Dinnage negatively compares the former book to The Divided Self.]

Laing's new book [The Facts of Life] is more about the factlessness of life than about its facts. It has a chill air of slackness and confusion. Laing begins with a short—too short—autobiographical sketch, which gives us a few devastating glimpses of his early life: the only child of estranged parents, his mother ill after his birth, his care at the hands of a "drunken slut"; he and his...

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H. J. Eysenck (review date October 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "But Is It Art?," in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 23, No. 1, October, 1977, p. 41.

[Eysenck is a German psychologist, educator, and author of several books, including Personality and Individual Differences: A Natural Science Approach (1985). In the following negative review of Do You Love Me?, Eysenck charges that the poetry has the characteristics of an "undergraduate joke" and that Laing's "undisciplined verbal ability" has produced "ugly" poetry of "unbearable bathos."]

Laing's Autobiography, [Wisdom, Madness and Folly,] which I reviewed in these pages a few months ago, already departed considerably from his usual style of writing; this book...

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Anthony Storr (review date 12 February 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "From the Mouths of Babes," in The New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1978, p. 8.

[Storr is an English psychiatrist and educator whose written works include The Dynamics of Creation (1972), C. G. Jung (1973), and The Art of Psychotherapy (1980). In the following review of Conversations with Adam and Natasha, Storr contends that, while the book's subject matter—transcriptions of conversations between Laing's young children—holds a certain fascination, the work is ultimately insubstantial.]

Admirers of R. D. Laing will enjoy this book. I liked it better than any book of his that I have read since his first two, The Divided...

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Rosemary Dinnage (review date 14 July 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Knuts," in New Statesman, Vol. 96, No. 2469, July 14, 1978, pp. 55-6.

[In the following review of Conversations with Children, Dinnage contends that, while the transcribed conversations between Laing's children are interesting at times, and may in fact raise serious "theoretical considerations." Laing is simply wrong to claim that this kind of material has never before been published.]

R. D. Laing has protested against being considered a gloomy fellow who sees no hope for the human race, and wants to show that he has another side; also he has a writing problem ('Natasha: why are you feeling sad?… Ronnie: I want to write things but I...

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David Ingleby (review date 3 September 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "In Place of the Placenta," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4144, September 3, 1982, p. 939.

[In the following mixed review of The Voice of Experience, Ingleby examines Laing's theory of the mind and suggests that his thinking has undergone a change, even a "regression," taking up positions he had dismissed in earlier works.]

No merely human author could have lived up to the leg-end which R. D. Laing generated in the 1960s: yet this was not the only reason why his recent publications have come as a disappointment to many. One sometimes suspected that the promptings of the publisher had been louder than those of the muse. A burnt-out case? On the...

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Peter Sedgwick (essay date 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "R. D. Laing: The Radical Trip," in Psycho Politics: Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz, and the Future of Mass Psychiatry, Harper & Row, 1982, pp. 66-101.

[Sedgwick was an English political scientist and translator best known for his socialist critiques of the treatment of the mentally ill. In the following essay, he outlines Laing's early career; the philosophical, psychological, and theological sources for some of his ideas; and the evolution of his theories about schizophrenia, the family, and society.]

The anti-psychiatry movement required a whole train of concurrent, convergent influences before it could gather force. Some of these factors lay in the...

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Maurice S. Friedman (essay date 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Politics of Dialogue: Ronald Laing," in Contemporary Psychology: Revealing and Obscuring the Human, Duquesne University Press, 1984, pp. 107-16.

[Friedman is an American educator who has written extensively on philosophy, religion, and psychology, including several books about the Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber. In the following excerpt, he examines Laing's views on the relation of the individual to the "other," comparing them with similar ideas found in the writings of Buber, Rollo May, and other psychologists, philosophers, and theologians.]

"More significant than the issue between atheist and theological existentialists," I have written...

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Peter Barham (review date 4 July 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Two Ronnies," in London Review of Books, Vol. 7, No. 12, July 4, 1985, p. 12.

[In the following review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, Barham disputes many of Laing's assertions about his work and the state of modern psychiatry. He also negatively assesses the quality of the writing in this and much of Laing's later work.]

Schizophrenia is now held to be one of the major illnesses of mankind, but its recognition as a clinical syndrome is of relatively recent origin. There is something very odd about the sudden arrival of the chronic schizophrenic on the stage of history at the end of the 19th century. One hypothesis which has been canvassed recently is...

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Carol Tavris (review date 8 September 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Things We Don't Talk About," in The New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1985, p. 9.

[Tavris is an American psychologist. In the following review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, she contends that the book is an appealing account of the first part of Laing's career.]

The second sweetest set of three words in English is "I don't known," and it is to R. D. Laing's credit that he uses it often. For psychiatry really does not know much about madness. It cannot explain why an American catatonic schizophrenic, crouched in apparently mindless rigidity in front of a television set for a month, can later recite every detail of the World Series he has seen. It...

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David Ingleby (review date 11 October 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Precocious and Alone," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4306, October 11, 1985, p. 1130.

[In the following review of Wisdom, Madness and Folly, Ingleby contends that, while Laing's autobiography "is absorbing and enjoyable as a story," it fails as a document of his intellectual development because of its exclusive presentation of his own point of view: his life "is presented as a solitary journey, and we hear little … about the fellowship that must surely have sustained it."]

As everybody knows, R. D. Laing is a psychiatrist who sees things very differently from his colleagues, many of whom indeed believe him to be crazy. How did he get that way?...

(The entire section is 1677 words.)