Tripping with Wilhelm Reich

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American Odyssey by Wilhelm Reich edited by Mary Boyd Higgins Farrar, Straus and Giroux,453 pages, $27 Orgone Player In the course of my longsojourn on the fringes of our society, way out where the buses don't run toooften, I've occasionally come across adherents of the orgone theory of WilhelmReich. Not often, because they are rare. Reich's books were burned and he wasclapped into the hoosegow for his dissent against the methods and power of theAMA and the FDA. I never really developed much of an interest in his work. Isensed a certain naivete about the guy. He railed against Hitler and "Hitlerism"without ever addressing the question of Hitler's sponsors, IG Farben being themost prominent. He tilted his lance at the AMA and the FDA without ever acknowledgingthe force behind those two malign influences, the pharmaceutical industry. Hisnotion of the orgone and the therapeutic effect of orgasm has always seemedto 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 reproducibleresults. The first person who everuttered the word "orgone" in my presence was a fellow by the nameof 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 onWestfield Ave., dealing acid and speed and occasional rare exotics like adrenochromeand DMT. He was a bodybuilder, and he looked for all the world like Boris Karloff'sFrankenstein, 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 constrictornamed Barbie. The cats enjoyed taunting the boa. Richie was very much outof the closet about his sexual proclivities, which fell into a narrow range concisely described as homosexual sadism. There was a full-size rack, whichdoubled 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 pharmaceuticalsenterprise, Richie had a fairly strong attraction to my emaciated, woodcut-martyrframe. I will confess to having played his affections a bit for the sake ofmy 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 wasthe fastest thing I have ever ridden in, and it handled like a tank. It huggedthe highway on the tightest of curves regardless of speed. One night Richiegot 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 pushcame to shove, he swallowed them. The cops rode away emptyhanded, Richie canceledthe appointment and drove into the Pine Barrens. Richie was acutely interestedin physics; specifically, the area of cosmology. The ability to dazzle a roomfulof 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 thecook, so I knew the dosage. By my reckoning, Richie Poore ate 32,500 microgramsof very pure LSD that night. Upping the dosage does not extend the duration:It increases the intensity. By way of comparison, a standard contemporary Deadheaddose is 125-150 mcg., enough to get "wiggly" and achieve a certaincozy antidepressant effect. 500 mcg. in a dark, quiet space will give most peoplea religious experience. 2000 mcg. will definitely introduce you to Big MollyThe Shredder and The Pilot Light Of The Universe even if you are Homer Simpsonstanding 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 dissolvedand 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 threedays 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 sheetmetal and so forth, finishing with a layer of sheet metal, which definitelyenhanced the already dungeon-like aspect of Richie's boudoir and served to worsenthe 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 aboutthe orgone, and how this force was the animating cause behind all things: electricity,magnetism, gravity, life itself. He maintained that all matter was a functionof orgone, that we lived at the bottom of a sea of orgone. He started engagingin seriously odd behavior in that room, way beyond s&m, lengthy devianttantric exercises involving skinny little guys he picked up at 13th and Locustin Philadelphia and weird drugs like adrenochrome. There was a very discerniblebluish 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 thewillies. The last night I partiedwith Richie I swear he demonstrated a phenomenon that he called "reversetrails," in which he somehow altered the pitch of the room or somehow autosuggesteda roomful of people into thinking that we were perceiving the moves we wereabout 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 thatorgone room. Fans of Wilhelm Reich willbe delighted at the release of American Odyssey: Letters and Journals 1940-1947.Reich, like Aleister Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard, generated a fiercely loyalfollowing so intrigued by the work that they find it necessary to comb overevery scrap and doodle in an effort to discern the key to the mysteries. Reichleans closer to Crowley in his personal pathologies, particularly in the areaof megalomania, but his critique of psychiatry and the "mechanistic method" of approaching the human condition put him closer to Hubbard's challenge thanthe blatant hoodoo perpetrated by Crowley. Crowley, Reich and Hubbardwere all psychiatric heretics, rebels against the bankrupt pseudoscience shovelingsocial control at the masses in the name of "self-realization." Psychiatryhas always and only been about making difficult people compliant. One has onlyto examine the case of Antonin Artaud to see how poisonous the cult of psychiatryactually is. The psychiatrists now seem intent upon drugging the whole populationof America. Crowley got lost in hisown drug-fueled overconfidence, succumbing to a genuine messiah complex andultimately indulging his own narcissism with the creation of a series of masturbatorybibliophilic cliques based on Freemasonry and the addle-headed sophistry ofthe Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Unlike Reich and Hubbard, his methodswere in no way scientific, and his dubious claims remain irreproducible. Reich was purer; he hadno 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, butthis volume reveals a man gradually eaten by isolation, bitterness and defeatism.The true centerpiece of the book is his rejection by Einstein, with whom hecorresponded at length and met with in 1941. This rejection haunts him throughoutthis work. What he shared with Hubbard was a completely oppositional positionwith regard to psychiatric orthodoxy, but Reich required the approval of themedical establishment, whereas Hubbard was content to cut a new trail. I amneither 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 myex-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 holdingthings. Orgonon was essentially about isolation, while Dianetics is essentiallyabout contact. I decided to call up John Carmichael, my friend at the Churchof Scientology of New York, and run these ideas past him. He's a very enlightenedguy, well versed in various cosmologies and very open-minded with regard toalternative belief systems. He hangs out with me, and I'm a Satanist. That'sabout as open-minded as it gets. I met with John at CS HQon 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, withhis fancy Viennese MD and his bishopric from Freud himself, winds up dying inthe stripey hole? It wasn't just the effectiveness of the Hubbard tech. EveryoneI've known who has experience with orgone accumulators says they work, and mostof these people seem to have benefited from these devices. It is not some bogusconstruct. 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 45minutes, 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 thejungle, at sea or half an inch behind the forehead. Hubbard couldn't fail becausehe had no agenda beyond discovery. Unlike Crowley, he had no interest in settinghimself up as some kind of "Beast" or messiah. He differed from Reichin that he had no interest in establishing his credentials or proving anythingto the psychiatric establishment. At no point does Hubbard claim that Dianeticsand Scientology are anything other than his own devices, and yet he avoids fallinginto the messianic trap. He was an empiricist, not a witch doctor. Reich's martyr complex isaltogether too evident in this work. For example: 20 December 1940 To adhere to the truthand to remain honest are very costly attitudes. Business forces people tobe so petty and low that a person must be really strong to avoid sinking tothe level of others for the sake of his cause. A person is always smallerthan the convictions he carries within himself, smaller by far. I'd like nothingbetter than to be tolerant and courteous, nonoffensive, and on good termswith everyone. It doesn't work... And then his journal entryof Jan. 14, 1943: "I have become indifferent to man, he is just toooffensive." This creeping misanthropyand 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 bequoting him here. Orgonon languishes in obscurity. The Crowleyites keep issuingnew editions of works by a man who died in 1947. Scientology is arguably thethird fastest-growing religion on the planet.

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