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The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (Penguin Psychology) Paperback – August 30, 1965

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Editorial Reviews


"Dr. Laing is saying something very important indeed. . . . This is a truly humanist approach."
—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

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."


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Psychology
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 30, 1965)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140135375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140135374
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By John Russon on December 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is a very clear and engaging introduction to the existential conception of the person. It uses the insights of Sartre, Heidegger and Hegel to reconsider those people generally called crazy, and shows that what is often called madness is better understood as meaningful gestures of communication from people who have been wrongly ignored. It is a great introduction to existentialism, it will help you understand yourself, it is a deep critique of the mental health profession, and it is a real pleasure to read. I often use it in courses in existentialism or intro to philosophy because of its clarity and because it shows the deep relevance of philosophy in general and existentialism in particular to everyday human life. This should be essential reading for everyone!
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on May 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this valuable study, Dr Laing proposes to examine the way some individuals are very proficient in acquiring a false self in order to adapt to false realities and to give an account of specifically personal forms of depersonalisation and disintegration. It is no small task for the therapist to articulate what the patient's "world" is and his way of being in it in order to outline his psychopathology. The author states that if we look at his actions as signs of a disease, we impose categories of thoughts on the patient in our effort to try to explain his mental state and it isn't easy for the therapist to transpose himself into the patient's strange and alien view of world in order to understand his existential position.

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.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is Ronald Laing's brilliant first work, written by the eminent psychiatrist at the tender young age of 28. I must say that it contains one of the most eloquent and compassionate descriptions of the process by which an individual retreats from the world of consensual experience and enters the fantastic world of psychosis. Laing provides a detailed theory of this process in his dichotomy between the "false" and "real" selves (based on the existentialist notions of inauthentic and authentic existence, respectively). (Laing explains that the "false self" is best thought of as a "system of false selves".) Beginning with the eccentric neurotic and "schizoid" individuals, Laing explains how these individuals, from a sense of ontological insecurity, progress into the schizophrenic stage of acute psychosis. He harvests the profound insights of existential philosophers (Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, et al) and applies them to his psychoanalysis.
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.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By ancient cheddar on September 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book felt to me strangely intimate, and understanding when I first read it. Laing, who was a clinical psychiatrist, presents case studies of people who feel overly self-conscious and self-critical, fearful to be on the street alone, hiding from social contact -- common enough feelings which he treats with supreme empathy, not judgement or haste to reform. He explains in the preface his analysis is based on existenstial thought, yet, he avoids the amoralistic tendencies of this genre of philosophy. His emphasis is more on the process of alienation of self from self, and inner self from outer self, into a "split." He gives analysis of the so-described schizoid and schizophrenic personality, attempts to analyze why a person slips into so-called "psychosis" -- in his analysis a schizophrenic person is forming a logical reaction to an untenable situation. Here he leans on other writers, such as Gregory Bateson's double-bind theory.

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'.
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