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Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America Hardcover – June 7, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Anyone who has seen Woody Allen's Sleeper will remember the Orgasmatron. In fact, this futuristic parody was based largely on the work of Wilhelm Reich, who coined the slogan "sexual revolution" in the 1930s. A pupil of Freud's who believed sexual and political revolution had to go hand in hand, Reich was an often-misunderstood genius for good reason. He invented the orgone energy accumulator, a phone booth–size cupboard intended to bestow sexual emancipation on its users. When his writings delved into even greater unconventional beliefs, like flying saucers, credibility was further strained. Other gurus figure in London journalist Turner's first book. What is lacking in prose excitement and humor over the sheer nuttiness of much of Reich's work is made up for by the well-described backdrop of Vienna and Berlin as hotbeds of culture, anti-Semitism, and insight into the psyche. Reich sailed from Austria to the U.S. in 1939, and, like many leftist European intellectuals, came under the FBI's scrutiny, which was his downfall. As much of a screwball as Reich was, he opened a Pandora's box for future sexologists like Fritz Perls at Esalen. As Turner shows, Reich was a seminal figure. 8 pages of b&w photos. (June)
“How [Reich] went from being one of the inspirational figures of the psychoanalytic movement, as a clinician, a teacher and a writer, to being a cult figure on the margins of 1960s America is an extraordinary story, and Turner tells it with subtlety and panache. Turner has interviewed many people who knew Reich well, and he casts his net wide, setting Reich’s quirks and crimes in their historical context so that a portrait of the man emerges rather than a diagnosis.” —Adam Phillips, The London Review of Books
“Christopher Turner’s smart, thorough, wholly engaging book takes the reader on a tragicomic adventure of the history of an idea that became an object: Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box. What began in Vienna with Sigmund Freud’s belief that the sexually repressive mores of society can make people sick evolved into a utopian, quasi-scientific fantasy that spread through Europe as fascism rose and eventually crossed the ocean to the United States, where it would play a crucial role in what is now called the sexual revolution. Turner’s measured account, bolstered by interviews with various characters close to the action, is a study in charisma, belief, and mental contagions that infected an entire culture, and which are still with us today.” —Siri Hustvedt, author of The Summer Without Men
“Turner has created a masterful synthesis of social history, psychosexual theory, obsession, and farce. The narrative is a madcap parade: Freud and Einstein, Leon Trotsky and Mabel Dodge, the Red Scare and UFOs, Ginsberg and Burroughs, Bellow and Mailer, Dwight MacDonald and James Baldwin, Woody Allen and Kurt Cobain—and Wilhelm Reich’s quixotic hunt for the ideal orgasm.” —David Friend, Creative Development Editor at Vanity Fair, and author of Watching the World Change
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I gave Turner's book two stars instead of none, or one, because I do like that Turner's efforts prove that Reich's work, even Turner's gross distortions of it, can gather so much attention in today's world, more than 50 years after Reich died in prison with his books and journals burned to ashes in government bonfires by Turner's intellectual ancestors.
I met Reich when I was a child and wrote a novel about my experiences growing up under his shadow, "The All Souls' Waiting Room." There is no easy, one-size-fits-all description of the man himself. I knew instantly, as a four year old, that he loved children. In spite of some ensuing traumas that I received at the hands of his analysts, I've never blamed Reich for what happened to me, hence the illuminating conflicts I've spent much of my life trying to resolve. (See "Children of the Future" for some insights into his child-rearing theories.)
After years of research and reading everyone else's take on Reich -- including meeting Myron Sharaf, whose "Fury on Earth" is well-worth reading, and James DeMeo, who scrupulously continues Reich's scientific work (see "Heretic's Notebook") -- I had to come back to my own. To wit, I think Wilhelm Reich was a brilliant, tortured soul who was bigger than life and certainly bigger than the century he was born into; his mission to cure and heal was stupendous, world-changing -- and problematic, because it brought him up against the very forces that have been keeping humanity in the dark for millennia.
It's only recently, I feel, that Reich's work may actually be given its due. Turner's book goes a long way to peeling back the layers of Reich's life. I actually was surprised at his even-handedness -- until the end, when he basically blames the current state of psychological enslavement and political oppression on Reich's "sexual revolution" -- a phrase that has been so taken out of context as to be meaningless.
Quantum physics is beginning to explain some of the controversial findings of Wilhelm Reich. We can assume that, like many ground-breaking pioneers before him, he was a complex, multi-faceted man light-years ahead of his time, a man who paid a heavy price to bring some much-needed truths to our troubled planet. R. I. P.
It's a big fat book, but such a page turner that I was glad to read to the last page. What Reich was planning to do for the rest of his life just prior to his death in a federal prison came as a heart-warming surprise.
The author is a journalist, not a psychiatrist, but he 'gets' what happened in psychiatry better than many of my professional colleagues. This is his first book, and judging from his photo, he is a young man. I am sure he has more books in him - and I look forward to buying his next one.
Einstein's polite dismissal of the box leads only to Reich's assurance that he's being targeted unfairly by agents of his demise. Sadly, such agents do exist in the form of the bumbling FDA, and American xenophobia of first, Jews, then Germans, then commies all wrapped and warped over the ensuing decades.
Reich sees himself as a Galileo or even more clearly as a tortured Christ figure.
Western attitudes about sexuality and paramor are expressed along the way, Kinsey's work, as well as the work of some other amazing social revolutionaries (not all of them would suit our hopes the way Huge Hefner does!) are sprinkled throughout. Lots to think about, and also to roll-eyes at.