Wednesday, 17 July 2013

WR: Mysteries of the Accumulator ('The new cult of sex and anarchy')

Just finished reading Adventures in the Orgasmatron by Christopher Turner, a very well written and fascinating biography of Viennese psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.  Turner casts his net wide and the book includes forays into Freud and his early disciples, Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking studies, the origins of birth control ('Many critics have seen in the Rockefeller support of Kinsey's sex research an attempt by the ruling classes to manipulate human behaviour by trying to find the means by which sex could be controlled' p.214), Paul Goodman, Gestalt Therapy, Esalen, Herbert Marcuse and the insidious uses made of psychology and psychoanalysis in advertising from the 1950s onwards (Mad Men obviously springs to mind here, as does the work of documentary maker Adam Curtis).

The shoddy treatment of Reich by the FDA and 'crusading' journalists (the headline of Mildred Brady's article for Harper's Magazine April 1947 issue appears in the title of this post) now seems pointless and a waste of time and money.  For me the book stands as a testament to the treatment of non-conformity - towards the end of his life Reich was clearly delusional, becoming obsessed with cloudbusting (see Kate Bush) and UFOs.  He died while serving a prison sentence for violating an injunction against sending his orgone accumulators across state lines.  It's heavily ironic that the FDA ordered the burning of his books as had Hitler before Reich escaped the Nazis and fled to the USA.  His ideas were influential on a number of writers including Alan Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and most famously William Burroughs who made his own accumulators (see photograph above of Kurt Cobain sitting inside one of these at Lawrence, Kansas).  Makavejev's 1971 film WR: Mysteries of the Organism was always showing at arthouse cinemas in the 1970s and 1980s but I've yet to see it.

A review of the book here.

Two of the most interesting characters to emerge from the book for me were Ernest Dichter and Fritz Perls.  About Dichter Turner writes (p.393):
'He embraced consumer culture wholeheartedly as a bulwark against fascism and the best weapon against communism.  Like many European exiles, he felt that the totalitarian threat was simmering below the surface of American life.  Dichter saw the motivational researcher as a psychoanalyst-at-large  whose job was to safeguard democracy by assuaging the fears of an anxious society, he turned consumption into a kind of therapy.  Whereas thinkers such as David Riesman and C Wright Mills saw mass affluence as leading to an epidemic of alienation, Dichter interpreted it as the very thing that kept democracy and the economy on the march.  "If we were to rely exclusively on the fulfillment of our immediate and necessary needs, our economy would literally collapse overnight."

The elderly Perls became a guru-figure at Esalen, promoting 'free love', later becoming disillusioned.  His oft-repeated slogans included 'Live in the present', 'Re-own your projections', and 'Be here now' (used for a very crap Oasis album).

Obviously my own Accumulator Press imprint owes a huge debt to Reich via Hawkwind.

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