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Psychoanalyst, sexual liberationist, radical philosopher, and brilliant scientist Wilhelm Reich remains one of the misunderstood and influential rebels in recent history. I've always been a fan of Reich's, but frankly, did not fully understand him myself: His work is so radical that it challenges many of our most basic assumptions about the world and our culture. I've been wanting to do an AEWCH episode on Reich for a long time, but most people who write about him misinterpret his work and end up producing messy books that don't do him justice.
Enter Dr. James Strick, professor at Franklin & Marshall College, historian of science, and author of the excellent book, Wilhelm Reich, Biologist from Harvard University Press. I first heard of James's work when former science colleagues of mine, who all studied under Lynn Margulis with me, told me about his work on Reich. Both Margulis and Reich were intensely polarizing figures, but Reich is the one so dangerous to the status quo that his work was seized and destroyed by the US government.
James and I cover much of the breadth of Reich's work, including his Sex-Pol work; why people choose to be oppressed and chose their oppressors; why Marxists feared Reich even as he was working with and for them (and the same with the psychoanalysts!); why Reich felt he had to measure libido, and how he thought he could do that; why pleasure matters; a Reichian perspective on Trump; Reich's concept of character armor; how Reich used dialectical materialism in his scientific work; Reich's discoveries about cancer; cloudbusters; what orgone energy and orgone accumulators are, anyway; and more!
I am so proud to share this episode with you, and I hope it helps contribute to a reappraisal of Reich's urgently needed work.
• More on Dr. Strick: Listen here to an excellent and lengthy interview with him about Wilhelm Reich, Biologist on the New Books Network podcast. Here's his a video talk, "Sex, Lies, and Bookburning" You can also read his other books, including Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation and The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology, which he coauthored with Steven J. Dick. If you're lucky enough to find a showing you can watch Love, Work, and Knowledge: The Life and Trials of Wilhelm Reich, which features James talking about orgone accumulators, among other things (or you can request to host a showing!)
• If you're in Maine, please do visit The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust and Museum. It's an amazing place surrounded by beautiful woods, and you'll come away a changed person. If you can't visit, do support them with a donation!
• You can watch the Wilhelm Reich Museum's short film, Man's Right To Know on YouTube.
• Here's my essay on Wilhelm Reich, although now that I have a deeper understanding, I take some of it back and feel it's a little clumsy. I am a far bigger fan after my visit to the Wilhelm Reich Museum, my conversation with James, and after having read Reich's work more deeply.
• Here's a book of essays, Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934, on Reich's work helping workers (socialists + communist) with pleasure ands sexual health.
• A lot of Reich's work is contained in The Function of the Orgasm: Sex-Economic Problems of Biological Energy. It's the book that most closely represents a survey of his work, but it's still dense. So approach with love and patience.
• I talked a little bit about Reich on with Mona Eltahawy on AEWCH 50, and I consider her a comrade in pushing Reich's work forward.
• I also wrote an essay on Jacques Lacan as part of the same series as my Reich essay, so if you want to know a little more about him, well, here you go!
• Reich's book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, is unfortunately more relevant than ever.
• The essay about my abusive ex-boyfriend is called "If You Ever Did Write Anything About Me, I'd Want It To Be About Love"
• I talk about dialectics with George Ciccariello-Maher on AEWCH 48, and I love this episode's discussion of dialectics as a compliment to that.
• You might have heard about Reich without knowing you heard about Reich, via Kate Bush's beautiful song, "Cloudbusting."
• For an introduction to Reich's scientific work, James recommends The Bioelectric Investigation of Sexuality and Anxiety (which is strangely titled wrong on amazon, but you can get it by clicking the link here).
• Two great explorations of expansion and contraction as motivators of organismic change, morphology, health, and vitality are Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants and a look at evolution based on Goethe's work, Thinking Beyond Darwin: The Type as a Key to Vertebrate Evolution by Ernst Kranich.
• Below is a photo of the bions Reich studied, which figure prominently in James's book.
• You can build an orgone accumulator, orgone blankets, and orgone pads. I'll let you surf around for those, but here's a very simple and detailed video on making orgone pads.