‘KNOTS’ . . . R.D.Laing


Winter Archway, Hampton Court Palace Gardens, Surrey, UK

R.D.Laing (1927-1989) is perhaps best known for his book ‘The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness’.  He was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness – in particular, the experience of psychosis. He aimed to revolutionise the way we look at personality disorders.

In his books, ‘Knots’, ‘Do You (Really) Love Me?’, ‘Conversations With Children’, and others, he demonstrates, as expressed in his words below, the amalgam of ‘patterns’, speech forms, verbal exchanges, or ‘knots’ he has encountered during his professional work.


The patterns delineated here have not yet been classified by a Linnaeus of human bondage.
They are all, perhaps, strangely, familiar.
In these pages I have confined myself to laying out
only some of those I actually have seen. Words that
come to mind to name them are: knots, tangles,
fankles, impasses, disjunctions, whirligogs, binds.
I could have remained closer to the ‘raw’
data in which these patterns appear. I could
have distilled them further towards an abstract
logico-mathematical calculus. I hope they are not so
schematized that one may not refer back to the
very specific experiences from which they derive;
yet that they are sufficiently independent of ‘content’, for
one to divine the final formal elegance in these
webs of maya.                                    April 1969

I give below just four short  examples of these ‘KNOTS’, the first of which
I have called ‘THE GATEWAY’


Although innumerable beings have been led to Nirvana
no being has been led to Nirvana
Before one goes through the gate
one may not be aware there is a gate
One may think there is a gate to go through
and look a long time for it
without finding it
One may find it and
it may not open
If it opens one may be through it
As one goes through it
one sees that the gate one went through
was the self that went through it
no one went through a gate
there was no gate to go through
no one ever found a gate
no one ever realized there was never a gate



Question Mark


If I don’t know I don’t know

I think I know

If I don’t know I know

I think I don’t know


They are playing a game. They are playing at not

playing a game.  If I show them I see they are, I

shall break the rules and they will punish me,

I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game

JILL   You put me in the wrong

JACK   I am not putting you in the wrong

JILL   You put me in the wrong for thinking

you put me in the wrong

JACK   Forgive me


JACK   I'll never forgive you for not

forgiving me


Four ‘binds’ from ‘Knots’ by R.D.Laing (pub. Penguin 1970)


1nyorks (18)ayton.JPG

The photographs are my own.