12. John Perceval
Inner Circle Seminar No. 204
Sunday 22 June 2014
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
John Perceval (14 February 1803 – 28 February 1876) was a son of Spencer Perceval, who became British prime minister in 1809 and was assassinated in 1812. John Perceval published an autobiographical book in two volumes, A narrative of the treatment experienced by a Gentleman during a state of mental derangement designed to explain the causes and nature of insanity, and to expose the injudicious conduct pursued towards many unfortunate sufferers under that calamity (1838, 1840).
Gregory Bateson edited, introduced and republished John Perceval’s book as Perceval’s Narrative: A Patient’s Account of his Psychosis (1961). In his introduction, Bateson described what Perceval called his ‘mental derangement’ as ‘schizophrenia’, although this supposed ‘illness’ was only invented by Eugen Bleuler in the twentieth century. However, Bateson was himself the pioneer of the revolutionary 1956 ‘double bind’ theory of ‘schizophrenia’ as an interpersonal situation rather than as a ‘disease’. He gave a profound analysis of Perceval’s ‘psychotic’ experience as a ‘voyage of discovery’ with ‘as definite a course as an initiation ceremony – a death and rebirth – into which the novice may have been precipitated by his family life or by adventitious circumstances’.
R. D. Laing, in The Politics of Experience (1967), stated that he was ‘in substantial agreement’ with Bateson’s introduction to Perceval's Narrative. Laing described an experience such as Perceval’s as a ‘voyage into inner space and time’. He wrote: ‘We can no longer assume that such a voyage is an illness that has to be treated.... Can we not see that this voyage is not what we need to be cured of, but that it is itself a natural way of healing our own appalling state of alienation called normality?’ But was Laing adapting Bateson’s thesis for a romantic ideology?
Sarah Wise will be an ideal guide to these events and to such questions, and will help us disentangle the social intelligibility of how John Perceval came to be locked up and ‘treated’ by those purporting to help him, in a way that he, with great understatement and dignity, called ‘injudicious’. Your contribution to the seminar discussion will be welcome.
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail: email@example.com
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