R. D. Laing’s critically neglected verse volume Knots (1970) is treated as a literary text and related to games, game theory and Cold War politics. The main focus is Laing’s use and view of language. He attempts, Zen-like, to reveal its conventionality and point towards another order of being. Knots participates in several genres and Laing – someone who sought to dissolve the doctor-patient distinction – transgresses what, he implies, are merely categories existing in language’s zone of illusion. His view of language relates, I argue, to his movement away from the speaking cure and towards greater interest in the body and pre-linguistic experience. While the countercultural Laing looks forward to the complete untangling of psychic, somatic and social knots, his presentation of such knots also suggests their unavoidability. If unavoidable, this text could help readers relate differently to their own knots and perhaps tie some more interesting ones.
Zone of the Interior is a satirical novel by an American, Clancy Sigal, about 1960s British anti-psychiatry, in particular, R. D. Laing, the radical Scottish psychiatrist and his idea (shared most notably by David Cooper, another existential therapist working in England) that schizophrenic breakdown might be a natural, healing process. Sigal’s little-known novel can help us think about the nature of anti-psychiatry and contribute to the resurgence of interest in it as we approach the 25th anniversary of Laing’s death. While Sigal, who was a patient and collaborator of Laing and worked in a democratized hospital unit set up by Cooper, lampoons anti-psychiatric doctors, the novel is a fundamentally sympathetic critique of anti-psychiatry: patients and nurses are the heroes, ordinariness wins out over madness as self-discovery, and anti-psychiatry is skillfully linked to issues of class, gender and New Left politics.