Tuesday, 13 January 2015

vis viva or élan vital

The director of Sigmund Freud’s out-patient clinic in Vienna, influential and controversial to contemporaries, was called Wilhelm Reich and due to later public shaming by an agency of the US government is nearly unknown except for a few of his kookier traces. Reich authored many respected works on mass-hysteria, including exploring why people were enervated by fascists and suddenly found it acceptable to participate in mob activities like biblioclasm (book-burning) and worse, linked poverty to mental health, hypnosis, developed what became the concepts of bio-feedback, body-language and Gestalt therapy (personal accountability), massage therapy and spoke very frankly about sexuality and inhibitions.
After the violent coup that elevated Hitler to power, Reich and many other Germans fled to Norway—including future Chancellor Willy Brandt—and Reich, continuing his research, solicited volunteers, Brandt among them, to make love whilst attached to an oscilloscope and study what sorts of voltage was measured. As the war engulfed Europe, Reich immigrated to the United States, sponsored by the psychiatry school of Columbia University—which did not turn out like Operation Paperclip. It was in New York that Reich first described his Orgone theory—which was basically the same notion as æther or the all-pervading Force or Chi, and imbalances in orgone (named after the orgasm, and not unlike Freud’s libido ideas) radiation led to all human ailments, disease and mental disorders. Reich met with compatriot Albert Einstein and tried to convince him of the efficacy and truth behind his conclusions—possibly under the pretext that the Allies such harness the power of this mysterious metaphysical element before the Nazis discovered it. Orgones could also be used to control the weather. Though Einstein heard him out and even tried to recreate his unscientific experiments, ultimately debunking them because of sloppy control-conditions, Einstein probably thought Reich was a touch looney and this encounter may have begun the unhinging of his professional reputation. Undeterred, Reich continued his experiments, which seemingly innocently enough, consisted of placing volunteers (although sometimes seriously ill people too that fell for quackery) in what was essentially a Faraday cage, a metal shield from outside interference that kept internal energies inside, called Orgone Accumulators for long periods, naked, to restore their natural equilibrium. Failing to get back into academia, Reich decided to purchase a farm in the state of Maine, naming it Orgonon, which included laboratories, treatment areas, a conference centre and an observatory for UFO sightings.
For all his eccentricities, Reich received little bad press while on the ranch and those in the psychosomatic medical community still though highly of his earlier writings. One magazine interview propelled his theories to national attention, after the war had ended, and Reich became a target of the US Federal Trade CommisSion (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical fraud and possible sex-trafficking. Interstate sales of orgone accumulators and printed materials that espoused Reich’s teachings were banned. A federal officer, posing as a client, asked Reich to ship him an accumulator, thus framing him. One of Reich’s final feats was saving the local blueberry harvest by creating a cloud-bursting device that beamed positive orgone radiation into the sky and ended the drought. Farmers were pleased with the results. The sentence handed down was harsh and provided for prison time and the destruction of Reich’s research facility, all orgone accumulators and his publications. FDA agents were present at Orgonon to supervise the destruction carried out by Reich’s friends and associates with axes and a bonfire, with Reich made to watch. After this unrepentant beastliness, accused of being delusional and paranoid and worse, Reich died while in jail, a cell being no proper accumulator. There was a resurgence in interest in Wilhelm Reich in 2008, fifty years after his death, a vault was opened at a medical library of the campus of Harvard University that held an archive of his unpublished papers.