Note: The article below was originally published in Noname, 1988
THE ATLANTIS COMMUNE – a short history by Val Dobson
(from Noname 2, Summer ’88)
…I can’t claim any direct knowledge of Atlantis – the closest I ever got was getting beaten up by its founder Jenny James in an encounter group in 1972; I’ve taken care to avoid her ever since!
At the time, Jenny was undergoing lengthy therapy to free her from the effects of what sounded like a not-unusually shitty childhood; she was a tense bundle of raging emotions and negative energies. When I all unknowing pressed the wrong button, she exploded all over me. she seems to have been exploding steadily over people ever since.
Soon after that encounter she set up the PNP (People Not Psychiatry) commune in London, with mostly ex-mental patients as members. They soon got to be known in the tabloids as “The Screamers” because of their extremely vigorous and noisy therapy sessions. There, Jenny developed her very individual ‘confrontational’ style of therapy. Nobody at the commune was allowed to get away with any bullshitting or psychological games; if you didn’t like what someone was saying or doing, you said so, loudly, forcefully and at length. if you felt bad, miserable or fearful for any reason you were encouraged to “get into it” and feel worse, so that you would “get to the bottom and come out the other side”. All psychological (and psychic) defences were battered down; absolute truth and honesty was the goal, to be achieved by any means (including physical violence) and at any costs. These tough methods seemed to work for some, although nobody kept any records of how many people were returned to mental hospitals after a stay at PNP.
In the late 1970’s Jenny and some other commune members moved out of London, driven out by continuing bad newspaper publicity and a growing dislike of cities. They alighted briefly in the Lake District before settling into a house in the small Donegal (Eire) town of Burtonport. There, on the windy Atlantic seaboard, they took the name of Atlantis.
Eventually, even there, the commune began to feel itself too confined. In spite of living in a big rambling ex-hotel set in two acres, in a small rural town, they felt the need for more space, more freedom, less pressure from modern civilisation. So, in 1981, they moved to nearby Inishfree Island – a big lump of rock and peat, with a boat, five cottages and no electricity or running water – and declared it Home.
And so the story goes on. Atlantis is still on Inishfree, they still receive visitors, they have continued with their decade-long ongoing group therapy, the endless self-examinations and confrontations.
Speaking with the honesty that they would require, I have to say that I do not like their methods or their philosophy. Jenny James (I am here judging from her books) believes that society inevitably produces people who, without exception, are psychically/pschologically dead/crippled, full of repressed poisoned energy – which sounds like the 20th century version of Christianity’s Original Sin, to me. The roots of all this, according to the Atlantis philosophy, MUST be uncovered, the bad energies expressed. And once expressed, the flow MUST continue; no stability can be reached, for stability means stagnation and stagnation means death. Jenny, in fact, appears to be in love with rage, violence and hatred. For her, love is almost always an illusion – even when it is not, it can only be kept alive by being allied with its opposite: hate. And for her, emotional energy is Life (she is an Aries) and this energy can only be sparked by the friction of constant conflict. To my mind, all this emphasis on negativity, the encouragement of conflict, the “everybody is full of shitty feelings” thinking is just as unbalanced as all the New Age “Cosmic Light and Love” garbage – Atlantis is the antithesis of Findhorn.
A last word – Jenny has written somewhere “If you can’t get over your neurosis, make a religion out of it!” She was talking about Bhagwan Rajneesh, but as my mother always said “It takes one to know one…”
Another last word – having been cursed at birth by the Fairy of Fairmindedness, I am compelled to add that the above is only my personal opinion and that maybe you ought to read some of Jenny’s books for yourself :
Room To Breathe / They Call Us The Screamers / Atlantis Is / Atlantis Alive / Atlantis Magic / Atlantis Inishfree / Male Sexuality, The Atlantis Position / Atlantis Adventure…
All published by Caliban Books (UK) in the 60s and 70s.
(Update: Several of these titles have been reprinted since – a web search should find them).