‘Knots’: Drawing out Threads of the Literary Laing

By: Adrian Chapman

Abstract: R. D. Laing’s critically neglected verse volume Knots (1970) is treated as a literary text and related to games, game theory and Cold War politics. The main focus is Laing’s use and view of language. He attempts, Zen-like, to reveal its conventionality and point towards another order of being. Knots participates in several genres and Laing – someone who sought to dissolve the doctor-patient distinction – transgresses what, he implies, are merely categories existing in language’s zone of illusion. His view of language relates, I argue, to his movement away from the speaking cure and towards greater interest in the body and pre-linguistic experience. While the countercultural Laing looks forward to the complete untangling of psychic, somatic and social knots, his presentation of such knots also suggests their unavoidability. If unavoidable, this text could help readers relate differently to their own knots and perhaps tie some more interesting ones.