By Lida Prypchan
One thing we can say about the life of Wilhelm Reich is that it was troubled. A photograph I have at hand reveals a man with a penetrating stare, protruding lips, deep wrinkles, and an expression of disillusion. Maybe it was because the era in which he lived lacked the understanding necessary for him to present his advanced ideas on sexuality and social reform.
He was born on March 24, 1897, an Aries, in the village of Galitzia in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. A fiery, determined, and impulsive personality predestined him to continual quarrels and failures. His father, a well-to-do agriculturist, lived in the German sector of the Ukraine. His primary interests as a child were biology and the natural sciences, motivated perhaps, by his father’s activities, which made it possible for him at the age of ten to use an experimental laboratory to raise butterflies, insects and plants under the supervision of a personal teacher.
His father died in 1914, at which point Reich was forced to return to work at his farm, which was destroyed the next year by the war. Between 1915 and 1934 he was enrolled in the Vienna School of Medicine where he was acquainted with Freud and became interested in psychoanalysis. After finishing his studies he began to practice as a psychoanalyst, specializing in neuropsychiatry. Together with Freud he performed a series of investigations on neurosis and visited Russia in order to convince scientists there of the importance of psychoanalysis to Marxism. Since Reich was at that time a dedicated communist, with the rise to power of Hitler he was forced to leave Germany and relocate in Oslo, soon to move again to the United States where he established an orgone energy laboratory in New York. After founding the Orgone Institute he acquired more that 100 hectares of land in Maine and later moved the institute headquarters to this location (a place free from repression, where he would thoroughly study Orgonomy, otherwise know a vital energy). In 1954 an agency that controlled food and pharmaceuticals accused him of fraud, for which he was taken to court and convicted of contempt-of-court for failing to appear. At a subsequent trial he was sentenced to two years in 1957, apparently bordering on insanity.
Presently, 72 of Reich’s publications have been catalogued, the most important being The Impulsive Character; Sexual arousal and Satisfaction; The invasion of Compulsory Sec-Morality; The Mass Psychology of Fascism; The Sexual Struggle of Youth; The Function of the Orgasm; and The Sexual Revolution.
There are three fundamental aspects of Reich’s work we should examine: firstly, the adequate function of orgasm; second, the discovery of orgone energy; and third, the lesson we learn from his life. Let’s begin with the functioning of orgasm.
In order to conceive of orgastic potency (or the capability to indulge in the discharge of biological energy without inhibition) one must bear in mind that until 1923 sexology and psychoanalysis only recognized the potency of ejaculation and of the erection. These potencies (ejaculation and erection) are the preliminary and indispensable conditions required to achieve the afore-mentioned orgastic potency. For Reich, the key to normalcy was found in the orgasm (or simultaneous and involuntary convulsion occurring during the act of sexual intercourse).
According to Reich, in the majority of human beings raised in a collective environment where the sexuality of children and adolescents is repressed, the orgasm is found to have atrophied.
The second aspect of Reich’s work is his discovery of orgone energy.
In 1936, Reich completely dedicated and oriented his work to a biological interpretation of the psyche. He discovered the potency of orgasm and the energy this generates, which he called orgone energy. He maintained that unless the barriers that inhibit orgastic potency are broken down, it is not possible for the human being to reach a normal psycho-physiological state. From now on, all of his effort was concentrated on developing a technique for acquiring, conserving, and intensifying orgastic or orgone potency. Based on this, Reich created Physical Orgonotherapy (application of orgone energy to the patient, concentrated in accumulator boxes) and Psychiatric Orgonotherapy (liberation of the orgone energy accumulated in the human being).
It could thus be deduced that the neurosis suffered in our time is a consequence of “orgastic impotence” or, rather, the inability to fully release one’s feelings of arousal at the culmination of sexual intercourse.
In summary, it is obvious that Reich’s life, as well as being troubled, is illustrative of the conflicts he provoked during his lifetime.
Reich, who fought against every type of repression, was destined to a life of repression. He was expelled from three countries and jailed in another. Reformists persecuted him as a revolutionary and revolutionaries persecuted him as a reformist.
The Stalinists persecuted him as a Trotskyist, and the Trotskyists as a Stalinist.
Freud and many others in the psychoanalytical movement and almost all of the luminaries of conventional science attacked him and did everything possible and impossible to disparage him. Both before and after his death, his works were prohibited. Some of them, and this I say with irony for those of us who boast of our century’s “openness of attitude,” will continue to suffer the stigma of prohibition.