The body is a source of pleasure and of pain, at once hopelessly vulnerable and radiant with power. In her sixth book, Olivia Laing charts a course through the long struggle for bodily freedom, using the life of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to explore gay rights and sexual liberation, feminism, and the civil rights movement.
In this multilayered and masterfully structured book, Laing obsessively examines the life of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (a protege of Freud), drawing connections to other intellectuals, ranging from the Marquis de Sade to Malcolm X, while including stories from her own life ... There’s no path Laing is afraid to explore. She writes about the sick body, imprisoned bodies, bodies that protest, the sexual body, bodies that have experienced acts of violence—illuminating the strengths and the weaknesses of the corporeal form ... Reading Everybody, it’s impossible to turn away from all the pain that has been inflicted on bodies ... Everybody should be required reading for anyone who cares about not just where we are now, but the future.
Talk about timely: Laing began writing about bodies under siege over five years ago, and the book is being published in the middle of a pandemic. But we have become newly aware of the vulnerabilities of our bodies in the past year in other ways ... she mixes biography, memoir, psychology and art criticism to create a treasure trove of cultural curiosities and political ideas ... Laing makes an entertaining tour guide, moving like a magpie through art, history and politics, and accumulating an exhilarating set of connections ... This is Laing’s most personal book yet – she talks about her own gender identity, going on Buddhist camping retreats with an ex-boyfriend, and her years as a climate activist. But it’s her ability to describe her own experience of looking at artworks that really illuminates her topics ... It’s an ambitious, absorbing achievement that will make your brain hum, like going on a funfair ride with a very clever friend.
Everybody pulls liberally from Reich’s biography, but the doctor belongs more to the book’s form than to its content: his narrative provides the hard factual shell into which Laing can pour her ideas. Everybody is, per the title, an interrogation of bodies, but not in the sense that bodies are usually interrogated. The book skips over traditional sites of interest, such as health or appearance, to explore questions of force and constraint, and how, more abstractly, our physical forms can shove us into conceptual categories ... The book proceeds, via an almost dreamlike, permutative logic, from the body as prison to the body in prison to masses of bodies in prison to masses of bodies in protest. At the end, we are released on a note that is either utopian or dryly ironic ... Everybody possesses a looseness, richness, and abundance of originality. One does not expect a political study to perform such sharp close readings of art and literature, or to describe emotions so elegantly. Line by line and thought by thought, Laing writes with surgical discipline; if that precision is lacking on the level of her highest-order argument, the sense of unfinished business that lingers is its own pleasure ... In the end, I found myself wishing not for less but for more. Laing engages so richly with the body’s confinement that the 'freedom' part of her book feels under-theorized ... I would have loved to see Laing extend her study of the fascist state to the democratic polity, to the ways in which our many small liberties are adjudicated to produce a collective one.