Monday, January 21, 2008
Renegade Science: Wilhelm Reich
Wilhelm Reich (March 24, 1897 – November 3, 1957) was an Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.
Reich was a respected analyst for much of his life, focusing on character structure, rather than on individual neurotic symptoms. He promoted adolescent sexuality, the availability of contraceptives and abortion, and the importance for women of economic independence. Synthesizing material from psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, economics, sociology, and ethics, his work influenced writers such as Alexander Lowen, Fritz Perls, Paul Goodman, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, A. S. Neill, and William Burroughs.
He was also a controversial figure, who came to be viewed by the psychoanalytic establishment as having gone astray or as having succumbed to mental illness. His work on the link between human sexuality and neuroses emphasized "orgastic potency" as the foremost criterion for psycho-physical health. He said he had discovered a form of energy, which he called "orgone," that permeated the atmosphere and all living matter, and he built "orgone accumulators," which his patients sat inside to harness the energy for its reputed health benefits. It was this work, in particular, that cemented the rift between Reich and the psychoanalytic establishment.
Reich, of Jewish descent and a communist, was living in Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power. He fled to Scandinavia in 1933 and subsequently to the United States in 1939. In 1947, following a series of critical articles about orgone and his political views in The New Republic and Harper's, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation into his claims, winning an injunction against the interstate sale of orgone accumulators. Charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction, Reich conducted his own defense, which involved sending the judge all his books to read, and arguing that a court was no place to decide matters of science. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and in August 1956, several tons of his publications were burned by the FDA. He died of heart failure in jail just over a year later, days before he was due to apply for parole.
Read the rest of the Wiki entry here.
Those interested in Reich might visit the Wilhelm Reich Museum homepage, here.