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Part One of this short work is Laing in his familiar quixotic stance of tilting at establishment psychiatry and science, finding method in madness and arrogance in analysts. Not all this is arbitrary: on the power games psychiatrists play, Laing makes valid if by now familiar points. But in casting the book's overall themes as a dichotomy in which unique historical subjective experience is the hero, and fact-oriented scientific objectivity is the villain, Laing goes too far. Science becomes a straw man, to be attacked for narrow exclusivity without relevance to the meaning of life--joy, beauty, sorrow, love. At the same time, Laing extols the virtues of an open mind. His own, it seems, is receptive to the possibilities of prenatal or birth memories, the experience of death and life after death, racial memory, astral projection. Then, in Part Two, Laing comes up with a new set of interpretations of patients' thoughts and dreams, finding correlations linking science, psychology, and myth in data he called embryologems, psychologems, mythologems. The topics here are memories and dreams of birth. Laing's contribution amounts to a revision of dream imagery in which leaps into water, holes, rooms, etc. are not seen as an inversion of the birth process à là, Freud et al., but the transit of ovum from tube to uterine wall. In addition, silver threads, beams of light, cords, ties and snakes are not phallic symbols, but represent the umbilical cord attached to a placenta--itself a symbol of dual identity, the divided self, a weak or lost sibling to the developing fetus. Curiously, when Laing is ""depicting"" and ""describing,"" he writes simply and vividly, presenting horrific case histories that engage the reader's sympathy. Otherwise he is merely substituting his own arbitrary interpretations of dreams, subject to the criticism of narrow exclusivity.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon