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Politics and Other Works

The Facts of Life

Allen Lane/Penguin 1976
Pantheon 1976


· Summary ·

After the astonishing success of Knots, Laing cherished high hopes for The Facts of Life, which appeared in 1976. Though it was not as playful or poetic in tone, it resembled Knots in being a risky departure from Laing's previous style, which made no attempt at offering a cogent or encompassing theoretical perspective. The book included some intriguing philosophical reflections on the relationship between the brain as an object of and a (possible) source of experience, memories of his father and uncle brawling, (the accuracy of which was vigorously contested by Laing's devoted Aunt Ethel of Largs, Scotland, who outlived her nephew by five years), some detailed case material, and finally, his evolving ideas on "prenatal experience" and its developmental sequelae .

Though he did not announce it as such, this last item heralded a new and insistent pre-occupation, and a potent but problematic shift in clinical perspective. In The Divided Self, the intelligibility of symptoms was sought in the conflict between the "real" (disembodied) and "false" selves, and/or the various "security operations" the patient implemented to ward off fears of engulfment, implosion, petrification, and so on. In other words, the source of difficulty was sought in the intrapsychic or intrasubjective sphere. Then, from Self and Others through to The Politics of the Family, the focus shifted to the interpersonal or inter-experiential, as Laing et al. sought to elucidate the "social intelligibility" of symptoms. In The Facts of Life, however, Laing sought the meaning of phantasy and the source of lingering conflict and trauma among all patients - schizophrenic and otherwise - in distant reverberations from "birth and before", thereby minimizing, obscuring or merely ignoring the theoretical implications of phases one and two of his work.

This book was not a best-seller , possibly because of the disjointed quality of the writing, or because of some deep thematic inconsistencies in his work that began became increasingly apparent at this point.

Notes by R . D. Laing

In this book I've tried to portray some facts of my life and world.

What is here is sketches of my childhood, first questions, speculations, observations, reflections on conception, intra-uterine life, being born and giving birth: allusions to behavior and experience of adults which seem to belong to the same class as traumatic neuroses. They make us wonder: the adult content of the adult misery seems to have the form or mold of intra-uterine and birth catastrophes-can this be possible?

I continue to muse over the ways in which structural configurations emerge into two sets of elements, mythological and embryological.

The unborn, mothers and babies in childbirth, people deemed to have lost their minds, have this much in common: they are often entirely at the mercy of, in the complete power of, others. Then we get a glimpse into how we treat each other when we have carte blanche, more or less.

We have feelings which can't be gainsaid, facts which cannot be denied, reason which keeps us from falsehood.

The main fact of life for me is love or its absence.

This is a generalization for which I can think of no exception. Whether life is worth living depends for me on whether there is love in life. Without a sense of it, or even the memory of an hallucination of it, I think I would lose heart completely. If I study human biology, the science of human life, I don't suppose I will ever come across the term or the concept and very little evidence of it. Here is a contradiction.

I recount in the course of this book the fact that when I was last in the U.S.A., the question I was asked most frequently was: 'How do we get in touch with our feelings?' Even men did not ask this question directly, but by implication, by asking questions about primal therapy, drugs, Rolfing, bioenergetics, Gestalt therapy, meditation, massage, yogas of different kinds.

I was asked about my feelings. People were far more interested in how I felt about this or that than in what I thought about it.

This book begins with autobiographical flashbacks to early childhood, then goes into the speculations, questions to the mirror, childhood- Who am I? etc. I then present a theory of intra-uterine life and mythology, dreams and fantasies, reflections on birth, birth trauma, birth practices, vignettes of the psychiatric world, and the world of human neuroscience, questions of ethics, of knowledge, of meaning, of faith, of belief.

I detest much of the theory and practice of natural science and biology. There is a frustrated natural scientist in me, who has little else than scorn and contempt for embryologizing mythology, for softheadedness posing as tenderheartedness; for ungrateful and ungracious attacks on research to which millions of people, including the assailant, owe their healths and lives; for the threadbare cliques of obscurantist and obstructionist organicism.

Nevertheless feelings are facts too, and record the fact that the passages which I've quoted from some scientists still make me quiver with rage (Masters), gasp with astonishment (Warren McCulloch), shake my head and purse my lips (William James), clamp my teeth together (Sperry), shudder (Cerletti), etc. What is done to unborn children, mothers and babies in childbirth, to people who lose their minds, amazes me. I know I'm not the only one and that this only goes to show how many savage, primitive, atavistic, archaic, wild, deviant, psychopathological, undisciplined, stupid, untamed, unacculturated minds still remain to be weeded out by natural selection, facilitated by human and genetic engineering.

Behind this book are many influences undisclosed in its pages. The work of Arthur Janov, Stanislav Grof, and others who allow to happen whatever is going to happen when people let go has unearthed many (I imagine thousands by now) experiences in adults in which they go through the experience of being born. In what ways this adult birth sequence, which I have personally witnessed over two hundred times, is connected with one's physical birth is almost entirely unknown. But connected it does seem to be.


· Contents ·



Primary Data




Nature and Nuture


Feelings and Physics


Life Before Birth




Cutting the Umbilical Cord




Samples of Psychiatry


The Scientific Method and Us


A Lecture


Field Notes


Return to Politics & Other Works

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