Academic journal article PSYART

Into the Zone of the Interior: A Novel View of Anti-Psychiatry

Academic journal article PSYART

Into the Zone of the Interior: A Novel View of Anti-Psychiatry

Article excerpt

Zone of the Interior is a satirical novel - published in the 70s in the US but not until 2005 in the UK - by an American, Clancy Sigal, about anti-psychiatry in Britain in the 1960s. Sigal, a novelist, journalist and left-wing political activist - who appears, transformed, as Saul Green in The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing - was a patient and later a collaborator of the radical Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing. With Laing and others, Sigal played a part in the setting up and running of a therapeutic community, Kingsley Hall (1965-1970) in London's East End. This was a place where, it was hoped, residents who might otherwise be hospitalized as schizophrenics could experience madness as a natural voyage of self-reconstitution and discovery. Sigal was also involved as a "barefoot doctor" at Villa 21 ("A Trip"), an experimental ward (1962-1966) in a large psychiatric hospital in Hertfordshire, England, that was set up by David Cooper, another radical psychiatrist and the person who coined the term 'anti-psychiatry' in his 1967 volume Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry. Sigal, together with Cooper and Laing and others were founders of the mental health charity The Philadelphia Association (which still exists today as an organization that provides psychotherapy and training in therapy, and therapeutic households for people suffering mental distress). Zone of the Interior tells a story that draws on Sigal's actual experience of involvement with British anti-psychiatry. We need not read the novel, however, as merely a more or less accurate account of people and events. The text can, rather, provide us with new ways of thinking about anti-psychiatry.

Sid Bell, the narrator, is an American writer, an ex-pat, a former GI, left-wing activist and Hollywood blacklistee (we could say just the same for Sigal himself). Suffering dreadful stomach cramps he thinks of as psychosomatic and having already visited several psychotherapists, Bell consults a radical Scottish existential psychiatrist, Willie Last, who impresses him with his frankness, relaxed manner and playfulness. Last introduces LSD into the therapy and soon takes acid with Bell, who joins Last in setting up a charity devoted to ameliorating mental health, Clare Council, an organization that eventually sets up a therapeutic household, Meditation Manor, in Brixton, South West London. In order to learn more about madness, Bell helps out at Connolly House, a democratized wing of a state psychiatric hospital that has been set up by Dr. Dick Drummond. We are encouraged to compare Connolly House and Meditation Manor, which, to anyone who knows anything about British anti-psychiatry, point towards Kingsley Hall and Villa 21. In a parody of the valuing of schizophrenic breakdown as a potentially healing journey found in the work of Laing and Cooper, Sid Bell longs to go mad, to experience the truth that, supposedly, can be revealed only by schizophrenia. The novel moves towards its climax, Bell's epiphany, his seeing into the truth of himself and his place in the world in a moment of transcendence. When the epiphany occurs, far from being a moment of sublimity, it is one of bathos. The spirits and demons that Bell has been reading about and conjuring are nowhere to be seen. No arcane secrets are finally revealed. But Bell does meet God - and the deity is in the form of a trade unionist, an activist from the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies), who tells Bell to quit focusing on high-falutin radicalism and return to the world of the everyday. Bell recognises what is really important to him: his life as a writer, his commitment to his friends and neighbors, his need to mourn people to whom he was close and who died recently, his commitment the quotidian world.

The novel, as Sigal himself notes, was published in America in 1976 but publication in the UK was delayed due to "vague threats" of libel ("Trip"). It was not finally published in the UK until 2005. Laing, who died in 1989, did not like the novel - and with good reason. …

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