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Kleinbard, D.J. (1971). Laing, Lawrence, and the Maternal Cannibal. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(1):5-13.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(1):5-13

Laing, Lawrence, and the Maternal Cannibal

David J. Kleinbard, Ph.D.

Many of the ideas concerning human psychology which R. D. Laing develops in The Divided Self and The Self and Others are clearly applicable to D. H. Lawrence's characterization of Paul Morel in Sons and Lovers. This attempt to analyze Lawrence's fiction in terms of Laing's concepts will center on the latter's notion of “ontological insecurity.”

According to Laing, “ontological insecurity” entails the absence of a firm sense of one's “own and other people's reality and identity.” An “ontologically insecure person” lacks “a sense of his integral selfhood and personal identity, of the permanency of things … of the reliability [and] … substantiality of natural processes, of the substantiality of others …”1b Laing uses the word “ontological” as “the best adverbial or adjectival derivative of ‘being.’ “1b And ‘being’ means “all that a man is” from two perspectives— as he experiences himself and as others experience him.1a If the word ‘being’ seems very abstract and general, the rest of this article will give it specific, concrete meaning with reference to the experience of characters in Sons and Lovers. Lawrence himself uses the word in his poem “Manifesto,” where he stresses the importance in his own life of what Laing calls “ontological insecurity”: “This ache for being is the ultimate hunger.”2c

In his long essay, “The Crown,” Lawrence discusses the suffering of people who have “no being.”3a

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