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Politics & Other Works

Reason and Violence: A Decade of Sartre's Philosophy 1950-1960
with David Cooper

Tavistock 1964, second edition 1971
Pantheon 1971
Random House 1971


· Summary ·

R.D. Laing acknowledged deep intellectual debts to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger, Buber and Tillich. But no existential philosopher affected him more profoundly than Jean Paul Sartre, whose book Being and Nothingness he read in the Army in 1949. (Unpublished letters from Laing to Marcelle Vincent, who lived in Paris, attest to the impact Sartre had on him during the early 1950's as well).

Over the years, Laing sent Sartre several letters, to which Sartre did not respond. However, on Simone de Beauvoir's recommendation, Sartre read The Divided Self in 1962, and became interested in communicating with Laing. With Marcelle Vincent's help, Laing arranged to meet with Sartre for one six hour session during November of 1963. Among other topics, normality, fantasy, old age, mescaline, Sartre's works and alienation were discussed. During this lengthy interview, Sartre agreed to write the forward to Reason and Violence, which he later characterized as " a very clear, very faithful account of my thought", which spans and summarizes three major works, Search for a Method, Saint Genet and Critique of Dialectic Reason - none of which were available in English translation at the time. Most scholars agree with Sartre's verdict, and those who are versed in existentialism and Marxist theory may still find it a useful summary of a vast body of work.

Laing's co-author on this project was David Cooper, a South African psychiatrist, and author of Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry (1967), The Death of the Family (1971), The Grammar of Living (1974) and The Language of Madness (1980). Cooper's reflections on Sartre's analysis of Jean Genet's work - (which Genet himself angrily repudiated !) - in chapter 2 is the only part of the book that deals with phantasy, sexuality and/or other topics of direct relevance to psychology and psychiatry. Chapter 1, which Laing and Cooper co-authored, deals with existentialism, alienation and the Marxist philosophy of history, while chapter 3 deals with Sartre's theory of groups and social classes, and by implcation , with topics like racism, imperialism and so on. To a certain extent, they anticipate some of Laing's remarks in The Politics of Experience (1967) and The Politics of the Family (1969).


· Contents ·

Forword by Jean-Paul Sartre

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