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.
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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.
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Reich theorized that the cosmic rays from the atmosphere’s life-sustaining “Orgone envelope” could be harnessed through daily irradiation inside the Orgone container to cure the sources of the “cancer biopathy.” And the magic didn’t stop there: “Where’s the Truth” includes letters describing UFO sightings and diagrams showing how to build an Orgone cloud cannon that would make the southwest deserts bloom.

The Food and Drug Administration (whose jurisdiction over the Orgone energy of the universe Reich denied vigorously, and whose agents he rails against throughout the book as HIG’s “hoodlums in government” and “savage hounds out to kill”) saw him as a “charlatan of the highest order” and pursued him in what was indeed a merciless fashion. Not that Reich made things easy on himself. The book’s plaintive title comes from one of his many primordial rants on the veracity and honor of the trial against him. In typically self-righteous fashion, Reich refused to believe that the outcome of his court case depended on such mundane details as having a good lawyer.

Refusing the services of a lawyer to defend himself and subsequently refusing to attend the trial, he was sentenced to two years of prison for contempt of court. The last diary entry found among the prison scraps before a heart attack felled the formerly vigorous man at the age of 60 was an undated “premonition” expressing his final hopes: “to finally have understood what the human race had embodied in the idea of God, to have lived it and yet not to have fallen prey to its unrealities will add to the great consolation…. unknown, yet close to one’s blood is the infinity of future possibilities, reborn in every child in every forlorn hut. Once no more feared but caressingly protected, this infinity will make Man gather himself into that great effort, the great beginning, from which small souls at present are still shrinking away, drowning in foggy lostness.”

Denounced as a bipolar madman and a schizophrenic by many, including his analysts, his work was instrumental in the formation of myriad analytic movements, ranging from ego psychology and body psychotherapy to bioenergetic therapy and the primal screaming popularized by Arthur Janov. He retains his mythical cult status within certain sectors of the profession. No one has ever suggested that a genius, even a genius within this particular profession, need be a psychologically simple creature.

Vladislav Davidzon is a writer,critic and translator. He is currently attending the European Union’s Human Rights Master’s program in Venice.


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