Stage & Screen 3

This post is part of a series. Please start reading at ‘Stage & Screen 1’ below.

Laing’s radical psychology provides a means of reclaiming the narrator of the ‘surveillance theatre’ document (see ‘Stage & Screen 1’ below) from the dank cul de sac that is the terminus for the barking nutjob. Clearly the narrator is unnerved by city life and has concocted a narrative that makes it manageable. After all, he did hand a copy of his treatise to my friend Trevor who, presumably, was deemed exempt from membership of the secret police and their legion thespian minions. With support from Laing it becomes possible, at the very least, not to rush to judgment, wherein judgment is synonymous with incarceration accompanied by invasive, often physically harsh, treatments.


If the city has been made manageable by cladding it in an exotic narrative premised on conspiratorial surveillance – which latter strikes one as a thoroughly nightmarish prospect – then we can speculate that the prospect of a city that is not centrally organised and therefore not predictable – a city in which shit just happens – is truly terrible. Conspiratorial surveillance could be seen as comforting by comparison – it does, after all, put considerable resources behind a single individual, who must, surely, be rather highly esteemed to merit such scrutiny.

The question arises as to whether there is any insight of value to be found in what the narrator actually says – as distinct from any insight that we might have into his reasons for saying it. Laing, as already suggested, would insist that beneath the mad talk resides an articulation of pain that has internal coherence and descriptive truth. He was, though, referring mainly to schizophrenic speech rather than paranoid speech i.e. a speech which makes little sense sentence by sentence or phrase by phrase while the paranoid mode – as in the ‘surveillance’ piece – is entirely clear and, indeed, would pass as decent journalism in a world in which such schemes were the norm. That said, if the narrator’s view of city life is to be taken seriously – after a degree of interpretation – then it is as a critique. It has some political force.

In a book written in 1964 with Aaron Esterson, ‘Sanity, Madness & the Family’, Laing analyses a series of interviews with the families of schizophrenic individuals and concludes that a subtle scapegoating process is going on in which the schizophrenic is being burdened with the unacknowledged fears, anxieties and potential madnesses of family members who have, without consulting each other, nevertheless ‘elected’ one member to the status of madness in order to relieve the pressure on those left ‘normal’. Laing and Esterson’s thesis enabled them to develop the notion of the ‘schizogenic’ family – the family that would produce or induce schizophrenia in one of its members.

If families can drive you mad then what of the societies within which those families have developed? It was a relatively modest jump from the idea of the schizogenic family to that of the schizogenic society. The society that drove you mad. The psychology designed to heal troubled individuals now had a broad social and political application.


Continued in ‘Stage & Screen 4’…