What a fascinating book ‘The Divided Self’ by RD Laing is. It is perhaps not the kind of book I would normally pick up but it was lying around and it is quite thin. I would urge anyone who has any interest in the workings of humanity to give it a go. Why? Because the boundaries of our existence are where things happen. Change is a rim event. Art and science push back the horizons of our knowledge and understanding and we are left only with more questions. The gap between sanity and madness is febrile yet perhaps gives us a true vision of what it means to be human.
As in Chekov’s ward number 6 where Rabin is tricked into the asylum but finds he is being shown real life for the first time, those who see the world in different ways may indeed be seeing reality and can offer us challenge and insight into our own perspectives.
As Laing wrote: ‘I am aware that the man who is said to be deluded may be in his delusion telling me the truth and this in no equivocal or metaphorical sense but quite literally and that the cracked mind of a schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people whose minds are closed.’
I am not an expert and I have no wish to denigrate the sufferings of those with mental illness but I suspect it is a broad church. I imagine that there are many of us who are slightly off centre and on some scale or other yet the thrust of society of late has been towards a narrower and narrower idea of normality and acceptability.
This is not good. As I have said it is at the fringes that we push society forward. We need to encourage the odd, the unusual and the different. We need to test our own horizons and challenge our assumptions. Perhaps those things we have been trying to suppress are more real than any reality in which the rest of us exist.