by Wilhelm Reich
edited by Mary Boyd Higgins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 453 pages, $27
In the course of my long sojourn on the fringes of our society, way out where the buses don’t run too often, I’ve occasionally come across adherents of the orgone theory of Wilhelm Reich. Not often, because they are rare. Reich’s books were burned and he was clapped into the hoosegow for his dissent against the methods and power of the AMA and the FDA. I never really developed much of an interest in his work. I sensed a certain naivete about the guy. He railed against Hitler and “Hitlerism” without ever addressing the question of Hitler’s sponsors, IG Farben being the most prominent. He tilted his lance at the AMA and the FDA without ever acknowledging the force behind those two malign influences, the pharmaceutical industry. His notion of the orgone and the therapeutic effect of orgasm has always seemed to me to be a Western man’s attempt to quantify what acupuncturists call “chi,” elusive in the quantifiable sense but definitely observable in terms of reproducible results.
The first person who ever uttered the word “orgone” in my presence was a fellow by the name of Richie Poore. Richie was a remarkable character. I first met him in Camden, NJ, in 1969. He was living in an apartment next to the Arlo movie theater on Westfield Ave., dealing acid and speed and occasional rare exotics like adrenochrome and DMT. He was a bodybuilder, and he looked for all the world like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, sans the scars and the bolts. The apartment was painted black
with metal sheets over the windows. There were cats, and a very large boa constrictor named Barbie. The cats enjoyed taunting the boa.
Richie was very much out of the closet about his sexual proclivities, which fell into a narrow range
concisely described as homosexual sadism. There was a full-size rack, which doubled as a coffee table in the living room. I was a fairly attractive teenager, if you liked anorectic maniacs, and besides being a client of my informal pharmaceuticals enterprise, Richie had a fairly strong attraction to my emaciated, woodcut-martyr frame. I will confess to having played his affections a bit for the sake of my business. I was, after all, a runaway, and I do not take welfare.
He drove a ’69 Roadrunner, seriously modified, with big fat mag wheels and a Hurst shifter. That car was the fastest thing I have ever ridden in, and it handled like a tank. It hugged the highway on the tightest of curves regardless of speed. One night Richie got stopped by the cops running 65 tabs of acid to a client in Medford Lakes. He tucked the baggie full of hits into his cheek for the search, and when push came to shove, he swallowed them. The cops rode away emptyhanded, Richie canceled the appointment and drove into the Pine Barrens.
Richie was acutely interested in physics; specifically, the area of cosmology. The ability to dazzle a roomful of trippers with a lucid explanation of the tachyon was his most charming aspect. I’d sold him the product he was delivering that night. My connection was the cook, so I knew the dosage. By my reckoning, Richie Poore ate 32,500 micrograms of very pure LSD that night. Upping the dosage does not extend the duration: It increases the intensity. By way of comparison, a standard contemporary Deadhead dose is 125-150 mcg., enough to get “wiggly” and achieve a certain cozy antidepressant effect. 500 mcg. in a dark, quiet space will give most people a religious experience. 2000 mcg. will definitely introduce you to Big Molly The Shredder and The Pilot Light Of The Universe even if you are Homer Simpson standing in line at Kmart. The most I ever ate in one sitting was 4000 mcg.,
and I could not distinguish between myself and the world. All boundaries dissolved and I finally understood what John Cage was doing.
Word got around quickly, and we were all quite worried until he roared skidding back into Camden three days later, looking oddly refreshed with a somewhat eerie light in his eyes. He immediately set about transforming his bedroom into an orgone accumulator: a layer of plywood, a layer of sheet metal, a layer of plywood, a layer of sheet metal and so forth, finishing with a layer of sheet metal, which definitely enhanced the already dungeon-like aspect of Richie’s boudoir and served to worsen the more claustrophobic aspects of the room.
I was, like, “You want ‘life force,’ why don’t you open up the windows and get a few houseplants?”
I’ve always been a bit of a yenta.
He took to ranting about the orgone, and how this force was the animating cause behind all things: electricity, magnetism, gravity, life itself. He maintained that all matter was a function of orgone, that we lived at the bottom of a sea of orgone. He started engaging in seriously odd behavior in that room, way beyond s&m, lengthy deviant tantric exercises involving skinny little guys he picked up at 13th and Locust in Philadelphia and weird drugs like adrenochrome. There was a very discernible bluish light that flickered around in that room even when you weren’t on drugs, kind of like the northern lights, and the whole situation began to give me the willies.
The last night I partied with Richie I swear he demonstrated a phenomenon that he called “reverse trails,” in which he somehow altered the pitch of the room or somehow autosuggested a roomful of people into thinking that we were perceiving the moves we were about to make as the well-known “trail” effect of LSD, except in reverse. It was thoroughly unsettling, and I never went back. It all happened in that orgone room.
Fans of Wilhelm Reich will be delighted at the release of American Odyssey: Letters and Journals 1940-1947. Reich, like Aleister Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard, generated a fiercely loyal following so intrigued by the work that they find it necessary to comb over every scrap and doodle in an effort to discern the key to the mysteries. Reich leans closer to Crowley in his personal pathologies, particularly in the area of megalomania, but his critique of psychiatry and the “mechanistic method”
of approaching the human condition put him closer to Hubbard’s challenge than the blatant hoodoo perpetrated by Crowley.
Crowley, Reich and Hubbard were all psychiatric heretics, rebels against the bankrupt pseudoscience shoveling social control at the masses in the name of “self-realization.” Psychiatry has always and only been about making difficult people compliant. One has only to examine the case of Antonin Artaud to see how poisonous the cult of psychiatry actually is. The psychiatrists now seem intent upon drugging the whole population of America.
Crowley got lost in his own drug-fueled overconfidence, succumbing to a genuine messiah complex and ultimately indulging his own narcissism with the creation of a series of masturbatory bibliophilic cliques based on Freemasonry and the addle-headed sophistry of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Unlike Reich and Hubbard, his methods were in no way scientific, and his dubious claims remain irreproducible.
Reich was purer; he had no need of followers or disciples. Reich had an idea, and his idea ate him.
Reich wasn’t a doper or a sex fiend like Crowley or Freud, Reich’s mentor, but this volume reveals a man gradually eaten by isolation, bitterness and defeatism. The true centerpiece of the book is his rejection by Einstein, with whom he corresponded at length and met with in 1941. This rejection haunts him throughout this work. What he shared with Hubbard was a completely oppositional position with regard to psychiatric orthodoxy, but Reich required the approval of the medical establishment, whereas Hubbard was content to cut a new trail. I am neither a Scientologist nor an “orgonist,” but I sure hate psychiatry, and this book piqued my curiosity: Why did Hubbard succeed where Reich failed?
I discussed this with my ex-wife during a recent visit, and she pointed out that the most fundamental
distinction is obvious: Reich put people in boxes, while Hubbard had them holding things. Orgonon was essentially about isolation, while Dianetics is essentially about contact. I decided to call up John Carmichael, my friend at the Church of Scientology of New York, and run these ideas past him. He’s a very enlightened guy, well versed in various cosmologies and very open-minded with regard to alternative belief systems. He hangs out with me, and I’m a Satanist. That’s about as open-minded as it gets.
I met with John at CS HQ on 46th St. I wanted an angle on the distinction between Hubbard and Reich. Why did one man succeed, despite his lack of credentials, while the other, with his fancy Viennese MD and his bishopric from Freud himself, winds up dying in the stripey hole? It wasn’t just the effectiveness of the Hubbard tech. Everyone I’ve known who has experience with orgone accumulators says they work, and most of these people seem to have benefited from these devices. It is not some bogus construct. There is a very distinct difference in emotional color between Hubbard
and Reich. I was hoping John could help me to articulate this perception.
We chatted for about 45 minutes, the gist of it being that Hubbard was first and foremost an explorer,
a barnstormer, a wanderer who couldn’t resist Terra Incognita, whether in the jungle, at sea or half an inch behind the forehead. Hubbard couldn’t fail because he had no agenda beyond discovery. Unlike Crowley, he had no interest in setting himself up as some kind of “Beast” or messiah. He differed from Reich in that he had no interest in establishing his credentials or proving anything to the psychiatric establishment. At no point does Hubbard claim that Dianetics and Scientology are anything other than his own devices, and yet he avoids falling into the messianic trap. He was an empiricist, not a witch doctor.
Reich’s martyr complex is altogether too evident in this work. For example:
20 December 1940
To adhere to the truth and to remain honest are very costly attitudes. Business forces people to be so petty and low that a person must be really strong to avoid sinking to the level of others for the sake of his cause.
A person is always smaller than the convictions he carries within himself, smaller by far. I’d like nothing better than to be tolerant and courteous, nonoffensive, and on good terms with everyone. It doesn’t work…
And then his journal entry of Jan. 14, 1943: “I have become indifferent to man, he is just too offensive.”
This creeping misanthropy and sense of impending defeat ate Reich’s head precisely because he had an agenda. American Odyssey is a fascinating read, but ultimately very depressing. Richie Poore died of a cocaine overdose some number of years ago, or I’d be quoting him here. Orgonon languishes in obscurity. The Crowleyites keep issuing new editions of works by a man who died in 1947. Scientology is arguably the third fastest-growing religion on the planet.