Olivia Laing

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29 April 2021
304 pages

'Simply one of our most exciting writers’ - Observer
'A free-wheeling and joyful exploration of the works and lives of a range of artists and thinkers who brought libidinal and creative energy together with spectacular results' - Jack Halberstam

The body is a source of pleasure and of pain, at once hopelessly vulnerable and radiant with power. At a moment in which basic rights are once again imperilled, Olivia Laing conducts an ambitious investigation into the body and its discontents, using the life of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to chart a daring course through the long struggle for bodily freedom, from gay rights and sexual liberation to feminism and the civil rights movement.

Drawing on her own experiences in protest and alternative medicine, and travelling from Weimar Berlin to the prisons of McCarthy-era America, she grapples with some of the most significant and complicated figures of the past century, among them Nina Simone, Christopher Isherwood, Andrea Dworkin, Sigmund Freud, Susan Sontag and Malcolm X.

Despite its many burdens, the body remains a source of power, even in an era as technologized and automated as our own. Everybody is an examination of the forces arranged against freedom and a celebration of how ordinary human bodies can resist oppression and reshape the world.

‘A brave writer whose books open up fundamental questions about life and art’ - Telegraph

An ambitious, absorbing achievement that will make your brain hum, like going on a funfair ride with a very clever friend

Evening Standard

This is an astonishing project, written with equal parts stirring passion and capable intellect. Laing puts into words experiences I had never before seen in print, and the world is better for it. I love this book

Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias

Laing’s impassioned commitment to the promise of bodily freedom, of every body’s right to move and feel and love without harming or being harmed, shines through every sentence of the book . . . The theme is amplified by reflective vignettes of her own bodily experiences, woven into the book with a deftness, candour and generosity that readers of The Lonely City and The Trip to Echo Spring will immediately recognise . . . Yet Laing’s Reichian utopianism, with its ultimate horizon of a body without fear, coexists with a clear-eyed sense, at work in all its granular explorations of sexual politics, art and ideas, of how and why that horizon seems always to be vanishing. And this tension, between defiant hope and sober realism, only enriches her intensely moving, vital and artful book

Josh Cohen, Guardian