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Number 14: Summer 2019

Encountering R. D. Laing’s Divided Self 1960. Penguin Modern Classics: 2010. ISBN: 9780141189376. £10.99

Daniel Bristow

As a Lacanian coming to Laing late, the title of his most renowned book had always held such allure: was the contemporaneous Divided Self working along similar lines to Lacan’s concept of, and theory surrounding, the divided subject? Yes and no, of course; but also, so much more. With Lacan, despite his psychiatric beginnings; the devotion of a year’s Seminar and a very important écrit to the subject; and his many returns to it, psychosis has always seemed like that into which one might, even should, take a leap, but also like the point at which any psychoanalytic handholding must come to an end to an extent (perhaps this is informed by Freud’s therapeutic reticence with regard to psychosis). By the time you’re immersed in the frenetic world of Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis, it is as if the meeting ground to the twain of wholly dissimilar, though uncannily related practices, has all but receded from view. Laing’s The Divided Self in many ways provides that bridge, and more besides.

Existentialism and phenomenology being key reference points for Laing gives an indication as to why this might be so; Deleuze notoriously shunned Hegel, whereas the Phenomenology of Mind is evidently integral to Laing’s study (as was its author to all the work of Lacan, honed in its understandings by the often underrated extraordinary elucidations of Hegel undertaken by Alexandre Kojève especially, and Alexandre Koyré as well, formative of the French psychoanalyst’s theoretical structuration). Laing’s erudition – his familiarity with Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and a host of literary figures and works – seeps through in his presentation of clinical material analysed phenomenologically and existentially; it is this analytic combinatory that delivers what I think is the essence of Laing’s clinical positioning: the combination of the phenomenological and existential to create the experiential, as understood in a very precise sense: phenomena as it is experienced to oneself. For