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Insanity Times: R. D. Laing, A Stone Circle, A UFO and The Rolling Stones

TabithaTuckett22 November 2019

Our first UCL Special Collections Visiting Fellow, Adrian Chapman (Florida State University London Centre), writes below about the research that arose from his fellowship with us during the summer of 2019, working on our Small Press Collections.

Consider the following elements. R. D. Laing, a radical Scottish psychiatrist who lived from 1927 to 1989. A Neolithic stone circle. A flying saucer. And The Rolling Stones.

What could they possibly have in common? There doesn’t seem much, or indeed anything at all, that links them.

But they’re all brought together on a front cover of International Times, a London-based underground press publication. The 59th issue of IT (as the paper was known), is from July 4th, 1969.

Let’s try to make sense of these apparently unrelated elements. Here they are on the cover:

Cover, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

Cover, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

The photo of hippies and gowned pagans at Stonehenge referred readers back to the Summer Solstice, a couple of weeks before the issue’s publication. The image reveals an abiding underground interest in the ancient and esoteric. In IT this preoccupation is represented by the writing of John Michel (someone who in his later years wrote a column for The Oldie in which he raged against decimalized currency and other supposed horrors of the contemporary world).

R. D. Laing’s name is on the lower level of the UFO but is difficult to read. A close-up of the saucer will be easier on your eyes:

Cover detail, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

Cover detail, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

You can also read the following words, looping out of the saucer to the right of the craft: ‘Coming to the park? Saturday 5th July. See page 23. See you there.’ No further details are given (or required). IT could safely assume its readership needed nothing more. The reference is to a free concert (in Hyde Park) headlined by The Rolling Stones. At the gig, Mick Jagger read an extract of Shelley’s poem ‘Adonais’ (his elegy for Keats) in remembrance of the recently deceased Stones’ founding member Brian Jones. Inside IT 59 is an interview with Jagger. Music, of course, was central to the underground scene.

I came across this issue of IT when poring over UCL’s excellent collection of underground publications from the 1960s and 1970s. As the college’s 2019 Special Collections Research Fellow, I began work in the Special Collections room by searching for evidence of R. D. Laing’s place in the underground or ‘counter-culture.’ That meant carefully sorting through box after box of old newspapers and magazines: painstaking work. When I delicately removed a yellowing and flaky newspaper and saw a flying saucer with Laing’s name on it, I was intrigued.

You may not be familiar with Laing. In the 1960s and 70s, he was a public intellectual and celebrity, the most well-known therapist in the world: the Mick Jagger of psychiatry. His books were on the shelves of students, hippies and radicals on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Glasgow, where he studied Medicine, he moved to London in 1956 to train in psychoanalysis. He went on to become a widely selling Penguin author. His The Divided Self (1960) impressed Jean-Paul Sartre so much that the French philosopher remarked that existentialism had found its Freud. Laing’s later books, The Politics of Experience (1967) and Knots (1970), sold particularly well.

His work critiqued psychiatry for treating patients, especially schizophrenics, as objects or bundles of symptoms rather than people in need of companionship. He called for greater acceptance of one’s own and others’ eccentricities. Society had become dull and unadventurous, he believed, requiring increasing conformity. He promoted experimental lifestyles, alternative education and consciousness expansion.

These views placed him at the heart of the counter-culture, which rejected much of what passed for convention and sought (in the words of Jim Morrison) to ‘Break on through to the other side.’  Laing’s celebrity extended across Europe and over to the United States. In Autumn 1972, he toured the US college lecture circuit and addressed packed-out auditoriums on a gruelling coast-to-coast tour.

As I delved deeper into UCL’s underground press holdings, I found more about Laing in the 1960s and 70s papers and magazines. There were features, interviews and advertisements for books and events. Laing and his colleagues can be found quite frequently in the main UK underground publications: IT, Oz, Friends (later Frendz) and Ink.

These publications reflected, and helped form, a youth culture opposed to mainstream values. I found a remarkably wide range of topics—drugs, police corruption, housing, sex and sexuality, racism, ecology, food and music. Politics and international affairs, too. Plus material on flying saucers, the occult, ancient archaeology and mental health. It’s difficult to conceive of a periodical today having such a surprisingly broad range. Laing was part of the curious mish-mash of ideas, groups and interests that constituted the UK underground in the 1960s and at the start of the 70s.

Long before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, underground publications brought people together and spread news beyond the mainstream. International Times was the UK underground’s first, and longest lasting, regular publication, beginning in 1966 and running up until 1974 (and on and off since then all the way up to the present). To people working on the paper, it was known as IT, and the IT logo was enough on issue 59 to identify the publication for readers. Along with the logo on the cover, there’s the IT girl (as she was known). She was intended as a playful reference to the paper’s title. Who better to use as an emblem than Clara Bow, the silent movie actress and original ‘It Girl’ who starred in a 1927 movie entitled It? Either through accident or design, though, the woman who ended up on the cover was not Bow but Theda Bara, another silent movie queen, renowned for her vampish roles.

In 1966, on the paper’s very first front cover, three questions appeared beneath the IT logo and the IT girl: ‘Who us? What us? Why us?’ The questions opened a mood of self-examination, not only about the nature of the paper but also about the nature of the UK underground, that would preoccupy the paper throughout its often-fractious history.

But the magazine’s 59th issue gave an answer to quite what IT was. If you look again at the image of the flying saucer, you’ll see a cigar-shaped form out of which come zig-zags looking like radio signals. What, we might ask, is the saucer broadcasting? Two words emerge: ‘INSANITY TIMES.’ We can also find ‘Midsummer Madness Issue’ written on the side of the saucer’s upper level. The issue is principally concerned with mental illness.

What could that possibly have to do with a UFO? And why would underground magazines be interested at all in flying saucers? In the age of Apollo and the USA-USSR space race, underground publications cared little for the superpowers’ rocket missions. But there was a sustained preoccupation—albeit one not shared by everyone identifying with the underground—with flying saucers.

At Oz magazine, alongside IT the leading organ of the London underground, interest in UFOs came from the Australian psychedelic artist, Martin Sharp. He edited Oz 9 (February 1968) and put a saucer on the cover:

Cover, International Times no 9, February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

Cover, Oz no 9, February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

In the magazine, Sharp also included a six-page UFO supplement. One page before it comes a full-page, very psychedelic Sharp illustration. And there is a Laing connection here. The illustration is based on a sentence of Laing’s (from his prose poem The Bird of Paradise): ‘If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know.’

International Times no 9, February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

Oz no 9, p.13 February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

 

 

This artwork takes the reader deep into inner space. Writing in his 1967 text, The Politics of Experience, a book that became a campus bestseller, Laing maintained that voyaging into inner space, even to the extent of psychosis (which, he believed, could be a natural healing process) could for some people be a route out of mental ill-being and into lives of greater freedom and authenticity.

For sure, there were people in the underground who believed in aliens (and government cover ups). But we can also read ‘underground UFOs’ as metaphors for the exploration of inner space. Hallucinogenic drugs provided a way of voyaging through this terrain. But so too did Laing’s idea of a ‘mad voyage’, an exploration of one’s self to the point of madness, ending (hopefully) in a ‘re-birth.’ It makes sense, then, that Laing’s name is on the IT 59 saucer.

But although the issue gives us Laing ‘on the same page’ or the same ‘wavelength’ as flying saucers, Stonehenge and The Rolling Stones, we should not assume that Laing himself shared such fascinations. While he was a source of inspiration to rock musicians (as I’ve explored in an article for the Wellcome Collection), as a classically trained pianist, he probably preferred Bach to The Stones. I have no idea what he thought of stone circles, but to my knowledge he had no interest whatsoever in UFOs.

Inside IT 59 there is an interview with him, and seven photographs of the doctor along with one of him and his interviewer, Felix Scorpio. Deemed worthy of eight photos, we can assume that Laing was someone IT readers very much wanted to see. I found myself most curious about the photo introducing the interview.

Elegant in a white shirt and black tie, and with his hair carefully combed, Laing looks back over his left shoulder at Scorpio, long-haired and wearing a casual jacket. Laing has two fingers of one hand on a sheet of paper while he writes with his other hand. You can see that he is very much the ‘straight’ doctor in his consulting room with a patient.

Photo of RD Laing, International Times no 59, July 4-19 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

Photo of RD Laing, International Times no 59, July 4-19 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

We can assume that the photo was ‘staged.’ But it’s interesting to think of what the image ‘says.’ Let’s imagine what Laing might be writing, then. While he avoided diagnostic categories and tended not to write prescriptions, the picture makes me think that here the doctor is scribbling diagnostic notes or perhaps scratching out a prescription. In the context of IT and its preoccupation with its own nature, plus its reflexive concern with the underground’s character, perhaps the good doctor is making notes to help him diagnose the underground. Or perhaps he’s writing a prescription to improve its health.

The interview itself is one that could never have appeared in a mainstream publication. It contains too much swearing, for one thing. And Scorpio moves between the stance of a conventional interviewer and the position of a former patient reflecting upon his breakdown and hospitalisation. He smoked pot in the hospital toilets and this greatly improved his condition, he tells Laing, who avers that cannabis and that psychedelics have their place in mental illness treatment.

‘Insanity Times’ contains more about mental illness. The longest article is about Georg Groddeck (1896-1934), a Swiss-German doctor who wrote The Book of the It and strongly influenced Sigmund Freud. Groddeck argued that a mysterious force, ‘It’, forges our mental and physical condition. Given IT’s self-reflexive stance, it was very much in the paper’s character to devote significant space to an examination of someone who wrote a text entitled The Book of the It. The long article makes use of quotations from Laing (and others including Nietzsche, Kahlil Gibran  and Jimi Hendrix) to help IT readers make sense of Groddeck’s work.

Two more pieces in the issue show the influence of Laing. An article about a new mutual support group, People Not Psychiatry, presents mentally disturbed people in a very Laingian fashion as members of the resistance against conformity. There’s also a first-person account of breakdown by someone writing under the name of ‘Alan.’ An introduction to the article tells us that although he’s now able to ‘cope’, Alan had not been able to fully carry out his ‘trip.’ Madness as a trip: very countercultural and very Laingian.

That Laing was the counterculture’s favourite psychiatrist is not news. But my close examination of the underground press has allowed me to investigate key historical sources and start addressing Laing’s place in the underground in detail. Sorting through dusty and fragile copies of IT in the UCL Special Collections room, how fortunate I was to come across number 59 from June 1969. The issue provides strong graphic and verbal evidence of how Laing was taken up by the UK underground.

This article comes out of a research fellowship at UCL Special Collections. Thanks to the staff at UCL Special Collections for their aid in finding materials in the Small Press collection.

Thanks also to the Martin Sharp Trust for permission to use images from Oz magazine.

If you would like to discuss the article, do get in touch. E-mail: anchapman@fsu.edu; Twitter: @dradrianchapman

 

Erasmus+ intern in UCL Special Collections

IbolyaJurinka21 November 2019

My name is Ibolya Jurinka. I am spending 3 months in UCL Special Collections as an Erasmus+ intern. Erasmus+ is not only a student exchange programme; it also provides overseas opportunities for all employees wishing to gain practical learning experiences from partner organisations in higher education.

I come from Hungary. I have been working as a librarian at the University Library and Archives of the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE).

The main reading room of University Library of ELTE

I catalogue journals, especially retrospective cataloguing. I mostly work with materials from 19-20th century, but I have also catalogued periodicals from 17-18th century and also from the 21st century. This summer I catalogued the oldest journals of our library with one of my specialist rare-book colleagues. These are from the 16th century:

Mercurii Gallobelgici, tom 1 (1598)

Cover of Mercurii Gallobelgici

I like this work and find it interesting, so wanted to gain more experience in this area abroad. This autumn I am cataloguing Little Magazines here at UCL Special Collections, and I have organized an exhibition about the most interesting magazines.

Little Magazines Collection

Basic information about Little Magazines

(source: SOAR, Geoffrey: Little Magazines at University College London)

‘Little Magazines are those that publish creative, often innovative work, with little or no regard for commercial gain. They sometimes have very small print runs and may last for relatively few issues. Most of them are from 1960s-1970s. The library of University College London started to collect Little Magazines from 1964’. It is a subsection of Small Press Collection.

Most of the Little Magazines are literary journals; they focus especially on modern, 20th century poetry and prose.

We can find colourful art magazines too in the Little Magazines Collection:

Cataloguing of Little Magazines

Cataloguing of little magazines is hard, because:

  • volume numbers and dates are often absent;
  • it is often hard to tell if a magazine is current or not;
  • many are published irregularly and often at widely spaced intervals;
  • many do not appear in official current bibliographies;
  • they are often visual and it is hard to identify the title.

Cover of Amaranth, no. 2 (1966?)

Visual Poetry in the Little Magazines exhibition, Main Library Donaldson stairs

Some of the Little Magazines contain visual and concrete poetry. This type of poetry appeared in the 20th century and became very popular. The exhibition focuses on little magazines containing visual poetry, whose title begins with the letter ‘A’. If you are interested in this exhibition, you can visit it from 24th October 2019 to 11th of December 2019 in the Main Library, either side of the stairs to the Donaldson Library. For more information, see the leaflets next to the exhibition cases.

Case 4 in the Main Library with 3 displayed items

One of the displayed items: Houedard, Dom Sylvester (D.S.H.): 12 dancepoems from the cosmic typewriter, no.11. In: Aplomb Zero, no. 1 (1969)

 

Printing and protest at Special Collections’ summer schools

Helen FBiggs13 August 2019

Librarian Liz Lawes discussing the Small Press Collections with summer school participants

While many of our colleagues have been enjoying (much deserved!) holidays over the past few months, it has been business as usual for UCL Special Collections’ outreach team. We have been lucky this year to be able to offer not one, but two summer schools for secondary school students, both taking their inspiration from our amazing Small Press Collection.

Protest in Print: Year 12 Non-residential Summer School (funded by Widening Participation)

This week-long summer school was co-led by artist David Blackmore, 2018-19 Honorary Research Associate at the Slade. The project aimed to give participants an opportunity to explore the ways in which artists, activists and writers have used and continue to use print to communicate a message of protest or political activism.  David was already familiar with much of the protest material in our Little Magazines collection, having taken part in the 2019 Small Press Project, Visions of Protest. With his encouragement, our students were quick to outline the many issues that they believe are worth drawing more attention to (including mental health, Islamophobia, the Extradition Bill in Hong Kong, and data protection) and staged their own demonstration on UCL’s Portico steps.

Summer school students stage a demonstration on UCL’s Portico steps

Our students then spent some time immersing themselves in archival and print collections, exploring ways in which some marginalised voices have found platforms in small press and self-published works. As well as viewing some of the wide range of titles held in Little Magazines, curated for them by Liz Lawes, they visited the May Day Rooms on Fleet Street, and had a tour of the Bishopsgate Institute Archives.

Putting their newfound knowledge into action, each of our students then created a work of art, using collage that incorporated copies of items they’d seen, and screen printing taught and facilitated by the Slade’s Lesley Sharpe.

The week ended with a ‘soft crit’ of their work, and a well-attended public exhibition. While many of our students had arrived anxious that they weren’t ‘art students’, they all showed a remarkable amount of skill and creativity, and a real passion to explain what was important to them through the medium of print.

A ‘soft crit’ of students’ artwork ahead of their exhibition.

 

Paper, Press, Print: East Education Summer School

With barely a pause to breathe, we launched straight into our second summer school, a free three-day course based at UCL Here East, as part of the Olympic Park’s education programme for local 13-to-16 year olds. It was wonderful to be able to host our project at UCL’s own campus at Here East, where our colleagues made both us and our students feel welcome.

Summer school students creating their own zines.

We were once again looking at protest in print, but with a different twist: this time, we focused on the ‘grassroots’ nature of many of the magazines in our Small Press collection, and invited Lu Williams of Grrrl Zine Fair to run a zine-making workshop. While our students differed in ages and abilities, they were all able to use photography, collage, block printing and a photocopier to create their own zines, allowing them to disseminate their ideas almost instantly.

And if that wasn’t enough…

…we’ve had plenty of other workshops to keep us busy! This year Sarah Hutton of UCL Culture invited us to take part in her Year 8 and Year 12 summer schools, both of which saw us discussing morality through 19th Century scientific archives and 16th Century religious texts, and July’s Paper Trails Conference was followed by a two-day workshop for Year 12s from Newham Collegiate Sixth Form College, led by Andrew Smith, on how to use primary sources in history research.

We will shortly be looking ahead to the new school and academic year – but first, we’ll finally be taking a well-earned summer holiday of our own!

Bridging the Digital Gap (Part II)

IsabelleReynolds-Logue18 July 2019

In my last post I explained what I have been up to for the last 9 months as the Bridging the Digital Gap trainee at UCL. Now, I will show you some of my favourite digitisation projects so far…

The UCL College Collection

The UCL College Collection contains, among other things, photographs of the exterior and interior of UCL buildings.

This photograph looking towards Gordon Street (Gordon Square is signified by the trees in the background) features some graffiti from the mid-twentieth century: ‘Merry Xmas. Love peace anarchy.’

Technicians seen posing on the ruins of the Great Hall at UCL in the 1950s.

The issue desk at the Main Library post-1951.

Bomb damage to the Main Library after the Second World War.

The Little Magazines Collection

The Little Magazines Collection was set up in 1964 to gather together little magazines from the UK, North America, Commonwealth and Europe. We have defined Little Magazines as “those which publish creative, often innovative work, with little or no regard for commercial gain.” You can learn more about the collection here.

Cover of ‘Gargoyle’ Number Two, 1921.

A page from ‘The Owl: A Miscellany’ 1919.

Jewish Pamphlets

I worked on a joint project with Dr. Maria Kiladi to digitise the Jewish Pamphlets Collection.

One challenge with these was that some pamphlets were read from right to left, when in Hebrew, as opposed to ones written in English. Another challenge was that I am unable to read Hebrew, so with pages entirely in Hebrew it was not easy to know which way round they were supposed to be. Additionally, the pages containing Hebrew characters were automatically rotated by the OCR software when generating PDFs, so I had to manually go through these and change them individually.

The entire collection can be found in our digital collections repository.

The cover of one of the pamphlets.

Library Exhibition

Again working alongside Maria, we digitised material that was going to be on display for the exhibition, ‘From Small Library Beginnings: a brief history of UCL Library Services.’ The photographs are online but were also printed in the exhibition catalogue. You can see more items from the exhibition online.

1935 Block Plan of University College London.

Dante’s Divine Comedy

This copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy features illustrations that go across a double page spread. This is not straightforward to capture with one camera pointing down towards the item, as the print is not flat, and cannot be made flat. There was also a problem of shadow appearing in the centre along the gutter. In order to capture the print as best I could, I ended up taking two separate images, on of each side of the book so that there is even illumination, and merging them in Photoshop.

You can read more about this item here.

Slade Archive Reader

Finally, the Slade Archive Reader is now available as four fully digitised, searchable PDFs, which you can view here.

My first thought was, why, if this is a printed, word processed document, do we not have a digital copy already? Unfortunately this is often the case with older word processed material. So, we have the task of re-digitising something that was already digital! Once we began looking at the volumes, it was clear that digitising the Slade Archive Reader would not be without its fair share of challenges. Primarily, the four volumes are bound quite tightly, which made it hard for me to keep the pages flat when photographing them. This curvature of the pages leads to a distortion of the text, which in turn makes it difficult for the OCR software to pick up.

You can browse all of our digital collections online here.

UCL Special Collections is committed to making digitised content available online. Although every effort has been made to identify and contact rights holders, we recognise that sometimes material published online may be in breach of copyright laws, contain sensitive personal data, or include content that may be regarded as obscene or defamatory.

If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material on our Digital Collections repository for which you have not given permission, or that is not covered by a limitation or exception in national law, please contact us at spec.coll@ucl.ac.uk

Announcing our first UCL Special Collections Visiting Fellow

ErikaDelbecque26 April 2019

We are delighted to announce that Dr Adrian Chapman has been appointed as our first Special Collections Visiting Fellow. The Fellowship programme is an opportunity for external researchers to visit UCL to conduct research on a topic centred on the Special Collections holdings. Its aims are to raise awareness of our collections and to facilitate new research into our archives, records and rare books.

Adrian holds a PhD from UCL, and currently teaches at Florida State University. He has published extensively on psychiatry and the counterculture of the 1960s.

He will be spending six weeks with us in summer working on his project ‘Underground Psychiatry: R. D. Laing, Radical Psychiatry and the Underground Press’. Drawing on our unrivalled collection of Little Magazines and alternative press publications, Adrian will examine how the underground press circulated, contested and appropriated Laing’s ideas in the 1960s.

Adrian will participate in the programme of workshops, talks and lectures run by the Special Collections Department. The events will be advertised on the Special Collections website and on our Twitter feed.