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From Dahomey, With Love


Sudhir Kakar

THE LANGUAGE OF MADNESS
By David Cooper
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 1980, pp. 182, £1.25

VOLUME V NUMBER 1 July/August 1980

One of Freud's distinctive departures from the psychiatric tradition of his time was to consider himself solely as the patient's agent and thus to repudiate any obligations to the patient's family and society. This radical line in psycho­analysis and in fact its ‘moral mandate’ is still a rarity among practitioners of psychiatry and psychotherapy. Most schools of psychotherapy attempt to achieve the impossible by trying to· ‘help’ the patient and at the same time ‘do justice’ to his family, friends, emp­loyers and even Government agencies. Psychiatry still serves the interests of families, groups and the community rather than those of the individual patient. Like many of Freud's ideas that were later picked up singly, in isolation from the rest of his theoretical system. and then made the basis of new schools of therapy, the idea of the psychiatrist as the agent of the individual against his family and society, was made the central plank of the school of ‘anti-psychiatry’ associated with the name of R.D. Laing and David Cooper. Briefly, ‘anti-psy­chiatry’ which had its heyday in the student movement of the sixties in Europe and the United States, subscribed to the following ideology of psychiatric ‘treatment’ in hospitals: (i) Abolishing the hierarchical authority structures in mental asylums and replacing them with new ones where the patients form the centre or core, followed by nurses who are nearer to the patients in terms of class origins. The function of the doctor in the new structure is to serve ‘as a protection from administrative inter­ference—and to provide contraceptive pills—and to shut up and listen and learn (more than his psychoanalysis will ever teach him and certainly more than his medical school ever did)’. (ii) Atten­tive non-interference by the doctors, which means that patients are encourag­ed to express the experience of their madness which is not sought to be curbed or dampened through the administration of psychotropic drugs. (iii) The ending of all forms of sexual repression within the hospital community. David Cooper’s new book is in the tradition of the ‘anti-psychiatry’ of the sixties with its attractive adolescent fantasies of the complete overthrow of traditional hierarchical structures and the dawning of an age of free and uninhibit­ed sexuality. The romanticization of madness persists (‘madness is a movement out of familialism toward auto­nomy’); it is equated with poetry and activity (‘The ...


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