The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Anglais) Broché – 25 juillet 2013
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Revue de presse
Philip toynbee in the Observer
"It is a study that makes all other works I have read on schizophrenia seem fragmentary. . . . The author brings, through his vision and perception, that particular touch of genius which causes one to say Yes, I have always known that, why have I never thought of it before?'"
Journal of Analytical Psychology
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Dr Laing states that many patients suffer from "ontological insecurity" because they feel insubstantial, the ordinary circumstances of life constituting a continual threat to their own existence. He mentions personalities like Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett and Francis Bacon. Then Dr Laing proceeds by giving the account of three forms of anxiety encountered by the ontologically insecure subject: engulfment, implosion and petrification. To illustrate these three forms, the author describes the case of Mrs R. who suffered from agoraphobia and schizohphrenic withdrawal.
Interestingly enough, the schizoid individual constantly feels vulnerable as he is exposed by the look of another person and that is why he fears live dialectical relationships with live people and prefers to relate himself to depersonalised persons or to phantoms of his own fantasies, thus the distinction between the "embodied" and "unembodied" self. Such an individual is afraid of the world, frightened that any impingement will be total and engulfing. He is afraid of letting himself "go", of coming out of himself or of losing himself because he feels that he will be depleted, exhausted, emptied, robbed or sucked dry. So for the schizoid individual, direct participation in life is felt as being at a risk of being destroyed by life. One aspect of this individual's ontological insecurity is the precariousness of his subjective sense of his own aliveness and the sense that others threaten this tentative feeling. The schizoid individual strongly believes in his own destructiveness by others. This view is in accord to the existentialist's philosophy represented by Jean-Paul Sartre who stated in his famous theatre play "Huis Clos" that "L'enfer, c'est les autres."
Thus a false self can arise in the individual which is in compliance with the intentions and expectations of the other or with what are imagined to be the other's intentions or expectations. Indeed, the self-conscious person feels he is more the object of other people's interest than in fact he is. And so the schizoid individual carries out defences like being like everyone else, being someone other than oneself, playing a part, being nobody or being incognito and anonymous. So if the gaze of others is experienced as a threat, there is a constant dread and resentment at being turned into someone else's thing (what Sartre called "l'être-pour-autrui"), of being penetrated by him, and a sense of being in someone else's power and control. Freedom then consists in being inaccessible. Love too for schizoid individuals is viewed as disguised persecution since it aims to turn him into an object of the other.
This type of individual can be himself in safety only in isolation. With others he plays an elaborate game of pretence and his social life is felt to be false and futile. But the more he keeps his "true self" concealed and unseen, the more he presents to others a false front and the more compulsive this fake presentation of himself becomes. This can lead to a complete disintegration of the personality.
While I find his explanations of the schizoid individual pretty compelling, they become more and more difficult to follow as he approaches the schizophrenic stage. (In fact, the last case presented in his book of chronic schizophrenia, "The Ghost of the Weed Garden", is downright depressing, and his idea of the schizophrenogenic family (as opposed to schizophrenogenic mother) of this girl seems somewhat unfair to the family members of this chronically psychotic individual.) Most people today would agree that schizophrenia (or "the schizophrenias", whatever the disease/s is/are) is best explained in terms of physiology; however, Laing offers an excellent existential analysis of the "illness" and provides insight into the unique perspectives of the borderline psychotic and psychotic individuals.
All in all, this is a beautiful exposition of the schizoid/schizophrenic mode of being-in-the-world.
Laing's writing is poetic in some places, and is literate in a way psychology books seldom are. i recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to know more about their own behavior, and others'.
Psychiatric dogma says that Schizophrenics are incapable of human relationships; that it is impossible to meaningfully dialogue with schizophrenics. Laing in this work develops an existential account of madness, which is in direct opposition to the modern dogma of psychiatry. He shows, with the aid of case studies, that madness should be viewed from the 'inside'; that is, people diagnosed as psychotic should be understood; a conversation/relationship should and can be developed. This is the very thing to be avoided according to the modern idea that the mentally ill are merely objects of 'scientific ' enquiry; patients to be diagnosed and treated.
Also developed in the book is the idea that public sanity is not identical with wisdom or truth. As Laing says early in the book " ... The cracked mind of the schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people whose minds are closed". This is not altogether new, Socrates saw "the superiority of heaven-sent madness over man-made sanity". The idea seems to have been lost in our current culture where the standards of sanity and reason are in large part intellectual constructions; formed by supposed 'experts' of the human condition or by the sloganistic and emotive words of public opinion devoid of all fixed meaning.
The book is informative and just great reading.