The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of R.D. Laing

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ISBN-13: 978-0674953598
ISBN-10: 0674953592
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Paperback, February 12, 1998
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Editorial Reviews Review

By age 15, R.D. Laing (1927-1989) was reading the works of Voltaire, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud--perhaps to escape from his brutal upbringing,or perhaps to understand it. A British Army psychiatrist by age 20, Laing sat with schizophrenics in their cells, trying to decipher the "environmental" source of their malady. Rather than pass it off to neurobiology, Laing believed that emotional misery stemmed from experiences, particularly those within the family. His work at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis in London led to many books on the subject including Self and Others. Daniel Burston shows how unconventional thinking took him to the top in his field, then eventually led to his demise. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Laing was the psychologist of the left in the 1960s and '70s, an opponent of the Freudians and behaviorists and of lobotomies, electric shock therapies and the incarceration of psychotics. Like Thomas Szasz, he viewed madness as a social construct, and in The Divided Self, his most widely acclaimed book, he characterizes schizophrenia as a sane response to an insane world. People go mad because they involuntarily repudiate the constriction of their social roles, and in the healing process ("metanoia") a new personality may emerge, anchored in the real self. Burston, a psychology professor at Duquesne University, astutely analyzes this view of psychotic breakdown as ontological crisis. He also selects significant biographical events that helped form Laing's ideas?including his rejection by a disturbed mother who forcefully separated him from whatever he loved. Burston takes us though florid periods of LSD and alcohol, through Laing's neo-Platonism and existentialism, and his superstar identity as therapist, mystic, maverick and guru. He treats Laing's psychological theories respectfully, however, and sees merit in the view that psychotic episodes can lead to a more authentic mode of existence. As Laing wrote: "Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough."
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674953592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674953598
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,720,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By calmly on September 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
For anyone who has been thrilled by any of Laing's books, as I had been, reading a biography of Laing can be a sad experience. Burston doesn't shrink from the disappointing aspects of Laing, but he finds great and continuing value in Laing's work while also reminding us of Laing's better side.
Burston has divided the biograpy roughly in half. First comes the standard chronological presentation, then an analysis of Laing's thoughts and concerns. This meaty but quite readable analysis includes assessment of Laing's philosophical assumptions, his position on psychoanalysis, and his place within psychiatry.
Burston effectively reminds us that, whatever his failings and however large his fall from popularity, Laing's work still presents challenges and promises values which we would be foolish to ignore. Blessed with a great mind, R.D. Laing also forged a wonderful heart: too many other therapists forget that our suffering needs both.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on February 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
In the 1960s several different movements became prevalent which operated in direct opposition to the institution of psychiatry, which often included forced medicating, confinement, and electroshock and psychosurgery on individuals deemed to be mentally ill. These individuals included both leftists (radical leftists, Marxists, and other liberals) as well as �libertarian rightists� and those who argued for individual responsibility attempting to re-politicize the process of denying civil rights to certain individuals deemed insane, among whom were many in the psychedelic counter-culture, cult groups including Scientology, various indiduals believing themselves to have been wronged by the psychiatric establishment and often identifying themselves as �psychiatric survivors�, and even some prominent psychiatrists � the two most notorious such �anti-psychiatrists� being Thomas Szasz (libertarian rightist and opponent of coercive �treatment�) and R. D. Laing (whose politiics ranged from the Marxist left to the far right). _The Wing of Madness_ is a biography of the Scottish maverick psychiatrist R. D. Laing and his contributions to our understanding of the schizoid/schizophrenic mode of being-in-the-world in terms of existentialist theory. Laing had a strange relationship to the medical establishment beginning as a psychiatrist who developed an interest in the field possibly as a result of his own troubled upbringing (his mother frequently prone to depression and possibly psychosis and his father prone to difficult bouts as well).Read more ›
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18 of 27 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on December 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
This really should be read along with the biography by hy Ronald Laing's son, Adrian Laing. Adrian Laing is much more critical. Although he is a lawyer and Burston a psychologist, I think Adrian Laing shows more understanding of RD Laing's place in psychiatry. Both books are very readable (which is the reason for the 5 stars) because Laing's life makes makes a good story.
By the end of the 1960's Laing was a dinosaur rather than an innovator. He was still blaming parents for their children's mental illness and advocating treating schizophrenia without medication. When I came to America in 1963 psychanalysis was dominant in psychiatry here. By the time time Laing died in 1989, psychanalysis was no longer taken seriously by most psychiatrists. I suspect that part of the reason for Laing's tragic self-destructive behavior came from the dawning realization that his treatment methods did not work for schizophrenia. Unlike Bateson and many of the American neo-Freudians, who were not MD's, he was a psychiatrist who undertook clinical responsibilities. Having set himself up, or been set up, as an omniscient healer he found he could not help those who turned to him.
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