Sigmund Freud's Best Pupil and His Descent Into Madness

Diaries of Wilhelm Reich Show Devolution of a Great Mind

Madman Or Prophet: Klaus Maria Brandauer stars in a forthcoming biopic about Wilhelm Reich.
Wikimedia Commons
Madman Or Prophet: Klaus Maria Brandauer stars in a forthcoming biopic about Wilhelm Reich.

By Vladislav Davidzon

Published February 13, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

WHERE’S THE TRUTH? Letters and Journals, 1948-1957
By Wilhelm Reich
edited by Mary Boyd Higgins and Brian Boyd
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 288 pages, $40

Being a prophet is an arduous profession, and one should by all means steer one’s children away from it. It is lonely, the hours are long, the pay is shabby and the people you endeavor to lift out of the darkness and into the light invariably claw and fight against you the entire way. They might remember you fondly, but only after they throw you and your works onto the bonfire. Or perhaps after they find your lifeless body on the floor of your jail cell a week before your parole hearings, as they did with Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich. Reich was the only man who was so honored as to have his books burned by both the Nazis and the McCarthy-era American government, both of whom immolated copies of his “Mass Psychology of Fascism.”

It is somehow appropriate that the inventor of the Orgone Accumulator — a homemade telephone-booth-sized cabinet lined with an energy-absorbing metallic coating in which one would sit to be charged up with metaphysical energy — died in a similar sort of enclosure.

Wilhelm Reich as he appeared in a 1900 childhood photo.
wikimedia
Wilhelm Reich as he appeared in a 1900 childhood photo.

The accumulator itself was immortalized in Woody Allen‘s “Sleeper” and in the fiction of William S. Burroughs and Evelyn Waugh. Though we already knew the end of this sad tale, the publication of “Where’s The Truth?” the fourth and last volume of Reich’s private letters and journals, fleshes out in detail his thoughts and feelings at the tragic conclusion of his life.

Perhaps Freud’s most brilliant pupil — in 1919, when Reich was 22, Freud allowed him to work as the youngest analyst in his clinic in Vienna — Reich was the prophet of the sexual revolution. Endeavoring to meld the insights of Marx and Freud with the emerging field of neuropsychiatry, he pioneered innovative techniques to analyze and ameliorate the “genital dysfunction” of the Viennese working classes

Even more so than Freud he saw psychological disturbances as stemming from sexual dysfunction, the deleterious effects of which combined with economic deprivation and carnal physicality to inscribe neurosis upon both the mind and the body. Yet Freud disapproved of the single mindedness of his insights and pruned off this disciple as he would many others for the crime of ignoring his injunctions and carrying their research into uncharted realms.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.