Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On (the absence of) Edification

From an essay review of The Facts of Life (a little known book, probably out of print, containing a chaotic set of notes by R D Laing)
Laing reports that he finds it more and more difficult to write. Anyone who’s read much of his work can understand why. Indeed, one can foresee the day when he will lapse into the silence either of futility or madness. As he himself puts it, “If one thinks about what is the case and what is not the case seriously, intensely and long enough, one seems either to drive oneself insane or to come to the conclusion that almost everyone else is, or that we all are...”

Like Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, most of Laing’s books end with conclusions in which nothing is concluded. “If I could tell you, I would let you know,” he says in The Bird of Paradise. “The statement is pointless/The finger is speechless” are the closing words of Knots. On the last page of The Facts of Life, Laing tells us, “This book makes no pretensions to be a guide to the perplexed. I am myself perplexed.” But, as always, in trying to convey the nature of his own perplexity, Laing succeeds in helping us open our eyes to our own.
It echoes how I feel about writing these days.

What to describe, except the inexorability of our condition...