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Copyright, Ian Irvine, copyright, 1998, reworked 2001, all rights reserved. This piece was first published in The Animist, March 1998. Wilhelm Reich, one of the Freudian schools most innovative psychologists, was born on March 24th, 1897, at Dobrzynica in Galicia, an out lying Province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His teenage years were dotted with tragedies. His mother committed suicide in 1911 after Reich accidentally revealed to his father that she was having an affair with her tutor. His father died of T.B. only three years later. To make matters worse, in 1916 the family farm became part of the battlefield of the First World War. Reich found himself in the Austrian army stationed in Italy until the war's end. After the war he began his studies in psychiatry and soon joined Freud and the Psychoanalytical Society becoming a practicing psychoanalyst in Vienna. Reich is the founder of Reichian Therapy and his writings have had a major influence on many modern psychophysiological and humanistic schools of psychology. In 1938 Reich became a naturalized American. He had been forced to leave Europe in the face of increased condemnation of his beliefs by fascists and communists. The move was also occasioned by professional pressures - his particular brand of psychoanalysis was diverging more and more from the Freudian orthodoxy out of which it had sprung. He died on November 3rd, 1957 of heart disease. At the time of his death he was serving a period of imprisonment in a US penitentiary for contempt of court. This essay will try to place Reich's theoretical insights within a larger historical, philosophical and spiritual framework than that so far presented us by critics and supporters alike. To achieve this end we will concentrate the discussion on some of Reich's most important ideas: 'character armouring', the 'emotional plague', 'orgone energy', 'dead orgone', the 'authoritarian character structure, and the 'genital character structure'. At times Reich's theories were recognizably based upon psychoanalytic, scientific, and Marxist methodologies. At other times, intuitive or inspirational elements peculiar to Reich himself dominate. Study of the Reichian heritage is rewarding for a variety of reasons. In particular, a thorough survey of the Reichian school of thinking will familiarise the reader with a whole range of themes central to twentieth century debates on 'subjectivity'. When we speak of Reich's idea of 'dead orgone' we are also speaking, in a sense, about concepts like alienation, existential meaninglessness, anomie, neurosis, angst, chronic boredom and so on. His insights are thus applicable to a whole range of debates about the social and/or moral origins of our modern 'maladies of the subject'. Subjective Pathologies and the Reichian System: The Body, Orgone and Dor In acquainting ourselves with the Western world according to Reich - the uncanny abysmal world of 'armored man' - one is struck by both the simplicity and the immensity of his vision. Reich's world is a fantastic inversion of the world as described to us through the media and via our scientists, educators, theologians and politicians. As with many modernist tending culture critics Reich set out to demolish the myths and ideologies that sustained early twentieth century mainstream culture. As with other great reformers he began his analysis by trying to put himself in the shoes, perhaps for Reich we should say 'in the skin', of the individual suffering from symptoms of personal psychological disintegration. To encounter Reich's work for the first time is to become instantly aware of one‘s embodied state of being. In the first pages of Character Analysis, for example, we encounter something strange, a long lost aspect of the Western self, an aspect reviled, betrayed, banished for so long that it is almost frightening to have to make one's acquaintance with it again - we are introduced to the body, our body and indirectly to the typical body of modern human beings. The body 'lives' in Character Analysis , it postures for us, it reintroduces itself, it insinuates itself into everything - it is
born of the womb, it suckles on the breast, it sits on its father's lap, it evacuates, it copulates, it hugs, it cowers, it expresses fear, it blocks trauma in specific ways and finally, when its days are over, it perishes. Likewise, in distorted form it marches in the ranks of great armies, it copulates in seedy brothels, it prays in corrupt churches, it snarls at life, it 'represses' sadness, anger, hate etc. it twists itself, by turning in on itself. Only painters, filmmakers and dancers have better described the subtle 'moods' and 'longings', the tragedies and ecstasies of corporeal existence. Guided by Reich we descend into the body, our body; more specifically our body as it registers the assault of culture. In the modern world, we are told, the body suffers. It becomes the toy, the prey, the slave of culture - it is the perpetual, silent 'other self.' By virtue of our own embodiment we become aware of Reich's description of the trapped, bound, gagged, tortured, cramped, stifled - these are the precise sensations - nature of embodiment in post-industrialist cultural space. All this, we are told, begins with certain diseased interactions between children and care givers, apparently innocent, unimportant interactions, experienced in the earliest hours, days, months of infancy. We have to look to the great Medieval Italian Dante for something like a similar overview and intensity of insight into the realities of corporeal suffering. The average person, according to Reich, is only partly conscious of the immense amount of suffering locked up in his or her body. To him the past is an Inquisitors dungeon where the price of salvation, of relief from physiologically stored psychological pain, is chronic neurosis, numbness, boredom, lethargy, conformity to the dictates of the 'they'. Reich speaks to us of 'bodies' going through cycles of ritualistic activities, sexing, eating, sleeping, working etc. that result only too often in psychic experiences of meaninglessness; the disquieting sense that many of we humans are addicted to actions, beliefs etc. that rob us of authenticity, and spontaneity. Reich's infernal realm is clearly no spectre of the imagination, no 'other world', no symbol of possible futures; rather it is a serious description of the peculiar horrors of embodied existence within the confines of twentieth century social structures. What then is at the core of Reichian analysis? What is it that gives rise to the personal state of chronic ennui suffering that later produces the kind of mass cultural ennui described by the likes of George Steiner in his work In Bluebeard's Castle? In Reich's formulation of the problem there is 'energy' [Orgone] and there is 'impeded energy' ['DOR' or 'radiation']. Energy [orgone] is life enhancing; impeded energy, on the other hand, produces the toxic state of 'character armouring' i.e. an individual manifestation of a collective pathology that Reich terms 'the emotional plague'. Energy, we are informed, is expressed through the body and its motile movements and also, through healthy emotions. There is no duality between mind and body in Reichian theorising. The self, the existential 'I', unreservedly exists, manifests, and finds succor or pain in its movements through cultural space. On a deeper level, a sick cultural space inhibits the movement of energy between people and as a consequence people get sick, emotionally, physically, intellectually and as in Reich's description of Nazi Germany, collectively. This social sickness, labelled the 'emotional plague' is said to be 'contagious.' In the twentieth century merely to exist is to be exposed to carriers of 'the plague' friends, neighbours, relatives, lovers, parents are said to carry the illness with them. How does Reich propose that this happens? From the texts it seems we transmit the plague via holding back on expressing our normal, healthy emotional dispositions - love impulses, anger impulses, etc. - in the fear that we will be chastised by other people ('society'). The result of this holding back is that people begin to express, through their 'character structures,' various malign emotional, intellectual and bodily states of being. Nastiness, rejection, humiliation, withdrawal, bitterness, addiction, become the hallmarks of a person’s existence and are socially encouraged. To summarise a difficult point: the emotional plague is primarily a disease afflicting what Reich describes as a truly 'materialistic soul.' It is caught via diseased emotional interactions between the self and others, particularly one's closest family members and other people in positions of authority over the subject.
Sociocultural Pathologies: The Emotional Plague as Collective DOR In elaborating on the nature of what he termed 'the emotional plague', Reich catalogued the ways in which it manifests in specific socio-cultural organ systems. He believed that once established in such systems it begins to act to engrave itself upon the bodies and emotional energy systems of millions of human beings. The connection between character armouring and pathological sociocultural structures is made clear in the following extract from Reich's work: "We can define the emotional plague as human behaviour that, on the basis of a biopathic character structure, operates in an organised or typical way in interpersonal, i.e., social, relations, and in social institutions. The emotional plague is just as widespread as the character biopathy. In other words, wherever there are character biopathies, there is also at least the possibility of a chronic affect or an acute epidemic outbreak of the emotional plague. Let us briefly outline a few typical areas where the emotional plague is either chronically rampant or capable of breaking out in an acute way. We shall see immediately that it is precisely the most important spheres of life in which the emotional plague is active: mysticism in its most destructive form; passive and active thirst for authority; moralism; biopathies of the autonomic nervous system; party politicking; familial plague, which I have designated 'familitis'; sadistic methods of education; masochistic toleration of such methods or criminal rebellion against them; gossip and defamation; authoritarian bureaucracy; imperialistic war ideologies; everything that falls under the American concept of 'racket'; antisocial criminality; pornography; profiteering; racial hatred." [Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis pg. 508] Flawed as this list of infectable social spheres may be there is nevertheless the sense that social institutions, morals, customs etc. that are fundamentally anti-life, can come into existence, and even hold sway, over many millions of people. As with Foucault, Reich believed that human beings can come to be regulated by fundamentally malign social institutions and belief systems, and that the process of regulation can carry over into areas of the individual's life-world that most of us would prefer to see as unaffected - e.g. family relations, attitudes to the body and the needs of the body, the spontaneity of emotional expression, the creation and maintenance of a person's self-image, the way in which the world appears to our senses, the things we come to desire, the way in which we think, the fantasies we discover in our minds and our most intimate experiences of various instincts e.g. the sexual instinct. In other words the most fundamental levels of personality formation can be negatively influenced by social forces. On a more existentialist level, Reich argues that symptoms commensurate with subjective alienation are contracted by organismic interactions with other human beings who have accommodated themselves to the anti-life tendencies implicit to the various socio-cultural organ systems of the state to whom they owe allegiance. Reich's 'social' they, is not too different to that of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche or Sartre. As with other psychoanalysts, however, the generalised 'norms' of the 'they' associated with childrearing come in for the most criticism. Reich speaks of the 'authoritarian family' for example. Various anti-life social moralities and customs surrounding sexuality and the satisfaction of bodily needs in general are also criticised (another feature of psychoanalysis). As an extension of a orthodox Freudian attitude toward modern sexual mores, Reich criticises educational institutions, churches and various sectors of the mass media. The implications seem to be that society creates certain 'norms' which are anti-life and which are forced upon individuals by other human beings - parents, educators, moralists etc., or simply 'contracted' from other individuals from day to day interactions with them. The mechanisms for enforcing these anti-life sentiments also implicate legal structures and policing structures - put simply normal healthy 'pleasure', vital to human emotional and physical wellbeing, is regulated and distorted by society. The consequences of having to submit to anti-life socio-cultural formations manifest personally in terms of subjective psychological disintegration. Socially, however, Reich is quite original in his linking of Freudian theory to areas of the social world not often seen as the result of collective
mass pathologies of the soul - i.e. wars, political turmoil, social inequalities and so forth. In this sense, symptoms associated with personal character armouring may manifest socially in terms of pathological political structures, pathological attitudes toward other nations, and pathological economic structures. Reich has little to say on the role of art in all this and his attitude to science reflects early Freudian and Marxist attitudes that see it as broadly speaking a liberating force. However, his general attitude toward the various forms of cultural interaction that characterise the modern age is negative: in short, most social institutions reflect the diseased state of modern man. To Reich then, the emotional plague and its socio-cultural counterparts represent a continual subterranean crises on at least three fronts - 1) the realm of the subject, 2) the realm of culture and, 3) the realm of society in general. George Steiner suggested in the nineteen sixties that Western Civilisation, in a sense, ended in 1915, because that year marked the onset of a period of unprecedented barbarity. Reichians would take such general social insights still further: Western society and civilisation now actively nurture personal states of psychophysical illness. We live in a toxic society, where the maladies of the psyche have come to be defined as normative, and where psychospiritual health is all but outlawed. How are we to judge such an apocalyptic description of social life? The emotional plague is clearly a phantasmagoric creation, Reich admits to this himself; "... the effects of the emotional plague are too fantastic to be perceived as something tangible." [Character Analysis pg.530] Later he describes it as 'incredible' and attempts to analyse the reason that it managed to remain undiscovered for so long. Often in Reich's writing 'it' is personified, 'it' has an almost intelligent defensive structure, 'it' comes across as some kind of emotional predator, for example: "The plague will automatically and inevitably work itself into a rage when the natural functions of the living organism are objectively and truthfully described. There is nothing it hates more than this." (my italics.) [Character Analysis, pg 510.] In Reich, the self's access to happiness and reality depends upon the health, or otherwise, of society in general. In the modern world the 'self' must wage a psychophysical battle of reclamation in order to win 'itself' back from the 'illness that infects all areas of a person's character.' I emphasise: to 'know', in the Reichian sense, is not merely to know 'intellectually', rather, it is to know through embodiment. Reich argues that infants depend upon their parents for their sense of 'knowing' - their access to happiness and to reality; to 'know', at such an early age, is to know that one is loved. To be loved is necessarily, to feel loved in an embodied way i.e. we need to be held, caressed, talked to softly, breast fed, looked at etc.. It follows that as infants we require the embodied love of healthy adults - something Reich sees as close to impossible in a sick culture. Was Reich A Visionary Rather than A Scientist? Certain methodological discrepancies in Reich's work highlight the contrast between intuitive and artistic (or visionary) ways of seeing maladies like 'character armouring' and scientific ways of seeing the same. Reich himself wanted to be known as a scientist of the psyche. The critical judgement on his life's work, however, is that his greatest insights were not scientific but psychological. Reich is classified by academia as a psychologist - a psychobiologist specifically. I want to suggest that he would be better understood as a kind of modern mystic - perhaps as a kind of didactic poet who wrote in prose. Rycroft has developed this line of reasoning already: "In view of my conviction that the system of ideas which Reich himself styled the science of orgonomy really belongs to theology and mysticism and not to science, I shall attempt to describe them in a way which will draw attention to their resemblances to ideas previously voiced by poets and mystics, who themselves made no claim to have reached them by other than introspective means." [Charles Rycroft, Reich pg.79-80, Fontana 1971, London.]
Reich himself said that his theories were anticipated by mystics like Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). Bruno, as history describes, was burnt by the church for his supposed adherence to pantheism. Like Rycroft, I too propose to treat Reich as a kind of pantheist/animist 'outsider' - in Colin Wilson's sense of the word 'outsider'. That is a person whose intuitive grasp of psychological realities led him into conflict with the dominant codes, paradigms and knowledge systems of his age. In particular, the paradigms and knowledge systems of science and psychology were stretched to the limit by Reich's intellectual explorations. In this sense his Science came out as a curious blending of Freudian theorising on 'eros' and libido' with certain strains of 19th century and early twentieth century biology that emphasised the physicality of many psychological manifestations of the life force ('the elan vitale' as Bergson described it). We may thus approach Reich's theoretical treatment of his own fundamental research obsessions from two perspectives: 1) that of the visionary mystic trying to grasp things others cannot see, and 2) that of the scientist struggling to prove to others the truth of his perceptions/vision. Reich's Break with Freud It is common knowledge that Reich remained heavily influenced by Freudian theory throughout his intellectual life. The issues that initiated his overt break with Freudianism must therefore be analysed. Reich grappled with much of the Freudian heritage: Freud's belief in a sexualised, though curiously incorporeal, unconscious; the idea that the relationship between the unconscious and everyday consciousness could be studied scientifically; the distrust of spirituality, mysticism and magic; the more-or-less Judeo-Christian suspiciousness of the instincts, the body and femininity; Freudianism's 19th century philosophical and Scientific heritage i.e. Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant, Darwin etc.; the Freudian ambivalence toward Hegelian, Marxist and Empirical philosophical systems of thought. The result of Reich's long involvement with (and criticism of) the Freudian school was a different view of neurosis, of the self in relation to culture, and, of the unconscious. After Reich left the psychoanalytic movement he became a new kind of thinker. There were three elements to his intellectual originality; he became in a sense a psycho-physiologist; a psychological culture critic and, perhaps involuntarily, a pantheistic-animistic mystic. The unwieldiness of the terminology illustrates well the 'straining of categories' we encounter when trying to critique Reich's work. Freud, as is well known, steered clear of - perhaps even disapproved of - the application of psychoanalysis to many of the areas Reich later ventured into. However, it seems that Reich's desire to integrate psychoanalysis with political and social theory contributed to the final breech between the two men. Reich's subsequent desire to apply psychoanalysis to physiological 'character structures' - that is to say the body, motility, and the material foundations of the human organism - may also have contributed to the breech. It is my argument that the fundamental point of discord between the two theorists has rarely been articulated. It can be introduced as the age-old problem of evil - the question of why it is that people act to hurt others. To begin with Reich saw evil as the consequence of social phenomena i.e. he developed a more or less Marxist reading of the sources of personal alienation. To him society created the Authoritarian Character structure. This character structure, according to Reich, had to be treated by more radical interventions than those proposed by Freudian orthodoxy. The therapist had to be able to rectify physiological distortions in bodily form, and in movement (motility). A feature of Reich's version of secularised evil (i.e. DOR) was that it did not originate within human beings; it was imposed on healthy character structures from without. Freud's secularised conception of evil was more of an intellectual concept. As such, it had less real world application than Reich's idea - modified from Marxist estrangement theory - of emotional oppression. Freud saw neurosis as innate - that is to say as arising out of innately unruly passions and instincts. Ill-disposed to spirituality and the possible existence of parasitic emotional phenomenon, Freud developed an alternative theory (in a sense: to Christianity) of secular evil which we may summarise by use of the psychoanalytic term ‘the death instinct'.
There is little doubt it represents a secular reformulation of the idea of original sin - we are born with innate destructive desires and drives. Freudian redemption is also secular i.e. 'analysis', which teaches control, sublimation and transcendence of the instincts. In the name of what? we might ask. The short answer is in the name of civilisation and consciousness. This has been the basis of much criticism of Freud: Isn't Freud's formulation in many respects reactionary? Why idealise the repressive aspects of civilisation: What if civilisation is itself ill? Suppose the sublimation process is really only a theoretical justification for oppression? Suppose civilisation actually creates the destructive impulses Freud's theory proposes it is designed to suppress and contain? In many ways Freud chose mass man over man the suffering individual. What was important was sublimation for the sake of society not social change for the sake of interior man. Freud's ‘death instinct‘, with its nihilistic overtones, found few devotees. The reason for this was spectacularly historical. After two World Wars, the spectre of the Nazi concentration camps and the development of weapons of mass destruction who was going to praise civilisation for its successes in controlling the 'normal' (by Freud's theorising) destructive impulses of the ID? Clearly, if there was an innate 'death wish' it was out of control and Freud's basically bourgeois confidence in the humaneness of civilisation no longer seemed justifiable. The problem of evil in the Freudian scheme of things thus remained (and remains) unresolved. Correspondingly, we notice throughout the century an increased tendency toward reactionary politics in Freudian orthodoxy. Reich's theories on the other hand were a direct inversion of most approaches to personal distress and mass social pathologies. Because he saw human beings as basically good he was compelled to explain what it was that made them do evil. The search was on for an external antihuman force - eventually it became known as DOR, 'dead orgone'. To begin with he saw the impulse to do evil in terms of "bound energy" - a concept again borrowed from Freud. However, the difference between the two men was, in practice, quite profound. 'Bound energy' to Reich was clearly visible in anatomical distortions caused by infantile patterns of defence against negative external stimuli. It was observable in terms of various nefarious physiological symptoms - chronic muscular tension, shallow breathing, altered skin tone, restricted blood flow, restricted motility, arrested physiological development and so on. With Reich's espousal of this theory the body and its needs re-entered Western history in spectacular fashion. It was his contention that the essential preconditions for people to do evil were physiologically built into the character structures of many millions of people. He went so far as to suggest that this state of bound energy was synonymous with the word "civilised." What Reich was saying was that for all our good intentions, for all our observances of religious and moral imperatives to do good - the physiological actions associated with doing good, with being loving and so on - it was nevertheless impossible, given the sorry state of the average civilised persons 'character structure' and motility field, to actually be 'good', to be loving. The Problem of Evil and the Theorisation of an External Force: DOR To take stock of the discussion so far: Reich was obsessed with the problem of why human beings act badly towards one another. In theological terminology, he was looking for a scientificcome-atheistic answer to the problem of Evil. His answer, though highly original, was in fact quite similar to many traditional answers to the problem. It began with the idea that people are not themselves when they carry out evil actions. They are under the power of some kind of external force. Reich believed that human beings are basically good, thus human acts of evil are primarily tragic - they are the self-defeating result of illness, of being taken over by DOR - Dead Orgone. DOR, according to Reich, is a force that floats 'like a cloud' around the cosmos. It looks for living energy systems to attack. This negative force transfers itself from parent to child via trauma, which is said to create negative patterns of emotional and motile activity that last into adulthood. Dor forces children to take on the diseased 'character structures' of their parents. DOR impedes energy flow throughout the psyche - it is as though the past, and the DOR component in physiological memories of the past, exert a constant nefarious influence over the present.
Many questions are raised by Reich's conceptualisation of DOR: What is the exact nature of this negative force? Can the force be defined as evil in the old theological sense, or should we define it in purely scientific terms, e.g. we might see it as a plague or virus of the emotions? Should we perhaps examine the possibility of an undetected metaphysical/emotional/physical predator? How has this force distorted the social and cultural world of modern humanity - e.g. our philosophies, psychologies and social theories? According to Reich, if people are infested with DOR, they will drain the emotional energies of those around them - particularly their children. Social institutions thus help to create character armouring via particular forms of pleasure repression. Character armour, according to Reich, is composed of restricted or frozen impulses e.g. screams, tears, kicking impulses, punching impulses, sucking reflexes etc. Somehow or other these impulses are stored in the body of the afflicted person. Each impulse is related to the particular environmental situations that the now grown adult encountered in childhood - e.g. a seductive or rejecting mother, a tyrannical or ineffective father, the death of a parent etc. In this system, symptom formation results when the child is unable to express the impulses at the time of encountering the noxious stimulation. Perhaps psychophysical repression occurs because of a sense of overload, or simply because the expression of cathartic impulses over a period of time failed to correct the external situation. The consequences of Reich's theorising on these issues have been largely ignored by post-WWII Western psychologists. For many theorists, the full consequences of Reich's observations are too disturbing to contemplate rationally - his critique amounts to a full scale indictment of civilisation, though not, it must be emphasised, of civilised humanity. In Reich, modern humanity is given the role of tragic victim. The Limitations of the Scientific Method in relation to Orgone and DOR Even though character armouring was a clearly observable phenomenon the actual cause and substance of it was not - to find the cause and substance of character armouring Reich first had to discover living energy. And so he began his search for "orgone" energy. It was from this point onwards that the Scientific method began to prove a burden to him. Unable to entertain the possibility that the method itself, i.e. the scientific way of viewing the world, might have arisen, like other cultural and social institutions, out of the diseased consciousness of modern man, he failed to see the limitations of some of science’s mechanistic approaches to psychic health. He struggled valiantly, but in my opinion futilely, to discover Orgone energy scientifically - without ever considering the possibility that the Universal life force could not be apprehended by such an approach. Reich thus had no alternative but to became a mystic; that is to say, he began to see the world in Animistic/Pantheistic terms. His scientific explorations became progressively more symbolic. Against his better judgement, he began to record his results in the mythopoetic terminology characteristic of mystics, monks and other explorers of states of being inexpressible within contemporary thought paradigms. His insights are original enough, however, to put him among the ranks of the West's greatest visionaries. He pushed the science of his time to the limit, and could not admit that it simply it wasn't up to the task - indeed, may never be up to the task - of describing the "life force". Torn between an obsolete Scientific methodology (inherited in part from Freud) and, his own personal intuitions of man's innate goodness, Reich's theorising appeared to many to become progressively more bizarre. Some researchers are content to say that he went mad. However, the truth is probably much more disturbing. By whatever circuit, Reich's life path had led him to view the world as holistically alive. The conception of orgone energy as simultaneously in everything and as something that moves between people in the form of organic love, might make us conclude that Reich was, at least by the end, a psychologist-poet obsessed with the age-old phenomenon of love.
Limitations of Reich's Theory Reich jettisoned certain valuable psychoanalytic insights when he left the Freudian school. One of those insights was the existence of repressed memory. Because his definition of "bound energy" later termed "DOR" - arose out of the scientifically observable (to his mind) phenomenon of character armouring, it was always a possibility that a man in search of scientific verification for his theorising would allow it to be defined almost wholly in relation to the visible moods, movements, structures of the human body. When this happened, however, Reich's whole theory of neurosis suffered. The possibility that other invisible or lost energy systems (psychological, mental, spiritual) not measurable at that stage by the scientific method could have been affected by the phenomenon causing character armouring was not the focus of Reich's later life research. This, despite the fact that the character armouring he was observing daily in clinical practice often involved specific memoric components. Out of the whole Reich - Freud split we might muse on one particular question: How might we fuse Reichian intuitions about the innate goodness of humankind with Freudian understandings of repressed memory? Such a reading of Reich's concept of "bound energy" would maintain his view that neurosis results from psycho-physical interactions between emotionally open and healthy children and emotionally diseased adults. The "bound energy" of caregivers somehow distorts the healthy soul energy of infants and children. From an adapted Jungian perspective we are saying that what the child innately needs (archetypically?) from parents is not forthcoming when the parents themselves harbour "dead energy". An aggressive father puts out malign energy (in the form of malign emotions), the child must defend against that energy - it is not what he needs to develop into a healthy adult. The fact that children need certain kinds of parents in order to develop healthy psychic and physiological functioning leads directly to the possibility that the child projects its need through, and lives inside, some kind of bio-psychic energy field - a field directly dependent upon the parents in childhood. Such a field might colour all kinds of later life experiences. The ideal parents as expected /projected out into the world by each particular child in order for him/her to develop into a healthy non-armoured adult is as close as we come to what Jung describes as the archetypes of the ‘collective unconscious’ - which interact in important respects with the ‘personal unconscious’. Due to Freud's adherence to original ID-sin and Reich's adherence to scientific materialism, this avenue of investigation was never taken up. The consequence for Reich's theorising was a kind of dehumanising scientific reductionism. One gets the impression that in many of Reich's texts, only "energy" is important in regard to the treatment of neurosis. At times, this "energy" is further reduced by being envisaged in terms of sexual energy alone. Hence the absurd phenomenon of the "orgone box". Complex patterns of past and present emotional interaction between people often become disembodied, reduced to mere energy transactions by the later Reichian methodology. The "energy" itself thus loses touch with memory and the people who made those memories in the first place i.e. parents, caregivers, lovers, friends etc. The question worth asking is: What if the "dead energy" is somehow physiologically linked to a kind of memory field containing both a person's expected patterns of interactions with the world and that person's actual experienced ones? What if character armouring can be understood as the physiological result of thwarted archetypal and life world interactions? In addition, what if this field exists around every human being? In other words: What if the impulses associated with these thwarted experiences exist in some kind of as yet undiscovered psycho-physical-spiritual energy field? Perhaps we are transacting with memories of care givers, DOR and the archetypal projections of our own needs expectation field every day of our lives. If neurosis arises from failures in this hypothetical transactional process is it possible to suggest that we are somehow psychophysically possessed by some combination of a reworked version of Reich's DOR and our repressed experiences of distorted archetypes? Reich and Animistic Views of Human Existence Once we reintroduce memories and expected full body needs into the equation we have more
laterality in our attempts to learn the exact way Reich's "dead energy" infects relationships, thought patterns, behaviour, emotion etc. The effects of the "dead energy" on character structure and physiological motility also become clearer when viewed from this expanded perspective. We may also develop a much clearer view of the way in which cultural institutions somehow manage to tap into this complex energy field of desire, need, pain and expectation. Reich's followers have corrected some of the more bizarre aspects of his theories. They have developed a theory of birth trauma - something that would have been even more difficult to prove in Reich and Rank's time than it is now. Some have acted upon the latent spiritual content in Reich's theories, thus making conscious what is largely unconscious in Reich himself - i.e. his animistic/pantheistic tendencies centre around the idea that everything in the world is God. There is little danger of such analysis leading to the kinds of monotheistic or authoritarian religious structures Reich himself had criticised in works like The Mass Psychology of Fascism. There is nothing in Reich remotely resembling Judo-Christian beliefs about spiritual transcendence, nor is there any advocacy of body hatred, sexual repression and patriarchal misogyny. Guilt and shame are not part of animistic and pantheistic spiritual faculties in human beings, nor is original sin. These facts must be stated if we are to attempt to read Reich's work from a spiritual perspective. To him the world was animate, sacred, and totally alive if only people could rid themselves of their character armouring. The confusions and limitations associated with the idea that when Reich spoke of orgone energy he was really only speaking of it in erotic sexual terms has been clarified and transcended by some of his most influential followers - notably Lowen with his Bioenergetic theories. Reich himself headed in this direction late in his life. It is also now acknowledged that other forms of non-sexual emotional and physical energy can be repressed psychophysically. Despite the above adjustments, I do not believe that the essential nature of the "anti-life" force that Reich said created character armouring has been any better articulated since Reich's death. In later life, Reich confused DOR with radiation. At other times, DOR became a somewhat freefloating phenomenon that blighted not only human energy systems but natural ones as well. Ultimately, DOR was said to have originated from outer space. The final stage of Reich's abandonment of reason and science to myth and symbol was bound to follow, and many called him crazy because of his attempts to create rain in the desert. It is my belief that two things stopped Reich from tracking down the real force behind the tendency of human beings to act evil even when their innate need is to do good. 1) The moment he dislodged the "bound energy" of visible character armour from the complexities of memory and childhood experiences associated with emotionally diseased adults, he lost the ability to understand the true nature of that "bound energy." All resultant efforts to come to terms with the force in terms of the scientific methodologies and technologies available at the time were doomed to failure. Thus Reich never adequately explained where this "bound energy" came from nor what exactly it was - how does it become bound for example, why didn't he consider the possibility that it was some kind of living organism that produced the energy drains associated with chronic forms of neurosis? In the end DOR functions as a mere construct, a necessary justification for humanity's inability to get access to Orgone energy - love. It is never quite innate as with original sin and Freud's death instinct (thanatos), but it is never quite defined adequately either. 2) His orgone theory has a basic flaw that should have been apparent from even the most rudimentary scientific analysis of natural systems. All creatures are made in order that they consume the energy - presumably the 'orgone' - of other creatures simply to live. Reich's formulation of Orgone energy and DOR energy often ignores this problem and idealises nature and natural relations between different species. The idealisation of the orgone energy transformation process closes him off to alternative formulations of the DOR problem. This is, in some respects, equivalent to the monotheistic need to make God both all-powerful and all good.
To Reich 'orgone' was all-good. It was Universal love. However, it was not all-powerful, it needed a bit of a hand. Hence the attempt by Reich to save the world from deadly orgone later in life. Having made the more or less mystical choice - it is, as I have suggested, in no way scientific - to see orgone energy as the great harmonising force of nature, Reich was forced to see evil as either a random external force or as something innate to humankind - i.e. to go the way of Freud and the death instinct. Because, at that point, he chose to see mankind as basically good he opened himself up to accusations that he was mad. The scientific rituals he chose to use to keep his version of evil at bay were certainly ridiculous, but the more socially acceptable rituals associated with other systems that theorise on humankind's innate evil are just as ridiculous and arguably more damaging. Why we might ask? Perhaps because their desire to see mankind as innately evil is more comforting than the prospect of an external anti human force over which we have little or no control. Innate evil seems controllable, there are religious rituals of penance, and there are psychoanalytic rituals that can control the ID and prop up the ego. Rycroft suggests that Reich subconsciously associated 'nature' with an idealised image of his own mother. The circumstances of her death certainly add weight to this possibility. Perhaps a need to idealise her closed Reich's eyes to the great energy struggles enacted throughout the natural world. The reality is that orgone energy, if it exists, is fought for by tens of thousands of different species. Reich seems to confuse the inner peace that results from freeing one's energy system (that is 'being in possession of orgone') with the peace of all nature. This is unfounded of course; a lion having eaten a deer is perfectly at peace but at what expense to the deer? More importantly, when this inner peace is absent in human beings is there a tendency to look to the external world for a cause - i.e. Reich's belief in randomly occurring DOR energy. In short, a subjectively negative emotional state may have been 'handled' in Reich by a belief in "clouds of DOR" or, later, belief in "radiation" from intelligent sources in outer space: "DOR also manifests itself in clouds, or rather accumulations of something invisible but blighting which can overhang landscapes, especially deserts and swamps, even when the sun is shining. A "stillness" and "bleakness" spreads over the landscape, rather well delineated against unaffected surrounding regions. The stillness is expressed in a real cessation of life expressions in the atmosphere. The birds stop singing; the frogs stop croaking. There is no sound of life anywhere. The birds fly low or hide in the trees. Animals crawl over the ground with greatly reduced motility. The leaves of the trees and the needles of the evergreens look very sad; they droop, lose turgor and erectility. Every bit of sparkle or lustre disappears from the lakes and the air. The trees look black as though dying. The impression is actually that of blackness or better bleakness. It is not 'something' that "came into the landscape". It is, rather, "the sparkle of life that went out of the landscape" [Higgins pp433-4] Here we have Reich's view of where evil comes from - this is the ultimate cause of character armouring. The description is highly poetic and has an underlying pantheistic tone to it. We are back at the very roots of ritualistic religion. The scientific 'rituals' Reich engaged in to combat evil were thus not very far removed from our more ancient ceremonies to avert evil as practiced by primal cultures everywhere. They are principles of sympathetic or symbolic magic. For example, if evil is objectified as bound electromagnetic energy then it follows that combat against this force must have an underlying 'sympathetic' correlation. Reich chose to mobilise fields of unbound orgone energy, which in turn he created by electromagnetic means. On a similar level when primordial peoples wanted rain they danced like "raindrops." Such rituals have an Aversive function, that is they 'send away' or handle a subjective state of anxiety by projecting it out onto the world. Reich's orgone accumulator didn't really neutralise DOR energy it neutralised Reich's anxiety about the world. This was also the true purpose of the devices he made in order to protect mankind from deadly DOR clouds sailing in from outer space. The point is these rituals are not very far removed from 'socially acceptable' forms of handling
external evil to be discovered in our culture today - in many ways, they are healthier. The difference is that Reich (like most animists and pantheists) saw evil as external, thus making humanity a tragic victim in a cosmic struggle. Modern society, on the other hand, tends to see evil as innate to certain groups. In so doing, it sees people as the problem and, consequently, its aversive rituals are much bloodier than Reich's could ever be. Modern society can see a person as morally beyond saving, that is to say evil, Reich, on the other-hand, always said that people act in evil ways because they are victims of DOR. A Reworking of the DOR Concept The final area of Reichian theory that is important to our explorations of chronic ennui consciousness involves us returning, for a moment, to Reich's point of departure from the scientific mainstream. I am concerned with the scientific view that species struggle for various forms of energy. If we are to believe Reich one of those forms of energy is orgone - does this struggle for orgone necessarily destroy Reich's idea of it as universal love? Surely, a quick look at the natural world would force some kind of alteration to Reich's reasoning. My view is that he should have made a distinction between the methods of distributing 'orgone energy' operative between different species - which are often, to say the least, brutal - and the methods of distributing that energy between different members of one species - e.g. mankind. To paraphrase Blake, a tiger is a tiger, it is a wondrous creation of nature or god but it can be vicious to mankind. A tiger is not evil because it chooses to eat a man. When orgone moves freely between different members of the same species e.g. humankind, there is affection, tenderness, love and so on. Reich says that actions and states of being involving character armouring e.g., hypocrisy, authoritarianism, impulse restriction, child beating, addictions, viciousness and so on, i.e. repression derived emotional states, actually result in a curtailment of the flow of orgone energy - 'contraction'. This crucial, and in many ways obvious, distinction would I suspect have led to a totally different formulation of the DOR problem. To begin with, the arbitrary dissociation of DOR energy from discovered and undiscovered energy processes active in the human organism (we still have to account for the phenomenon of character armouring) would have been avoided. The need to project the DOR energy out into the stratosphere in order to maintain the intuitive hunch that mankind is innately good also becomes unnecessary. Character armouring, and the behaviour it propels, could just as easily be seen as the result of some kind of predatory entity 'particular to‘, but ‘separate from‘, the human organism and more particularly the human emotional system. It might be useful to look at the character armour problem in terms of a disease of the human emotional field rather than as an abstract, disembodied symbolic force everywhere apparent in nature. It may also be the case that the illness brings about the kind of malign defensive projections associated with neurosis - projection, fore example, would be seen as a predatory strategy, a way of safeguarding the psychic predator's hold on its prey. The projection process has always been described as the external symbolisation of a subjective internal state of consciousness; a revised Reichian perspective would elaborate on that general conclusion. The disruption in energy transformation that occurs when relatively 'plague-free' infants come into contact with character armoured adults is clearly a disruption in the movement of Reich's orgone energy between members of one species. If we see the force behind character armouring as 'particular' to human emotional and spiritual energy fields then we must theorise that it somehow affects the energy transformation apparatus built into mankind. It is not stopping the flow of Reich's formulation of universal orgone that leads to psychological suffering, but stopping the flow of a specific "human" form of that energy i.e. affection between human beings. If it is anything, "bound psychic energy" (DOR) is not a free floating cosmic force, but a specific force, or even entity (perhaps created like any other entity to feed off the energy fields of other creatures). It is possible that character armouring is caused by a 'psychic tiger' - to mutate Blake's symbol. In this sense, it may be a force that thrives after it has gorged itself on our emotional energies.
So we can say that if the world is indeed full of ‘orgone’ (love), it seems, that to possess that orgone each organism must have some kind of innate transformative apparatus which throws out projections of various emotional needs and transforms those needs when they are met into feelings of cosmic well being - the kind that Reich associated with the flow of Orgone. In this system there is no necessity for the external world to satisfy our projected archetypal needs but if it doesn't the "dead orgone" the "chronic-ennui parasite", the "death instinct", the "winding sheet of abstraction", the "plague," the "Nausea" - whatever name we wish to put to the phenomenon by which men and women act to hurt other men and women - begins to possess the organism. Perhaps Freud's primal scene would be better interpreted as the child's primordial (fully open and alive) confrontation with the DOR that passes between it and its parents or care-givers. Perhaps this is the first moment of soul loss - the first falling into perpetual sleep, the Fall, if you like. Copyright, 1998, reworked 2001 and 2010, Ian Irvine, all rights reserved. Bibliography Reich. W, Character Analysis, Reich. W, The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality, Reich. W, The Function of the Orgasm, Reich. W, The Bion Experiments, Reich. W, The Sexual Revolution, Reich. W, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich. W, Listen Little Man, Reich. W, The Murder of Christ: The Emotional Plague of Mankind Reich. W, Reich on Freud Lowen. A, The Betrayal of the Body, Lowen. A, Bioenergetics, Lowen. A, Love and Orgasm Pierrakos. Dr. J, Core Energetics, Miller. Alice, For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Childrearing, Miller. Alice, The Drama of the Gifted Child, Janov, Arthur, Why we Get Sick, How we Get Well (tape)Janov. Arthur, The New Primal Scream, Janov. Arthur, The Primal Scream, Janov. Arthur, The Primal Revolution, Janov. Arthur, Prisoners of Pain, Janov. Arthur, Primal Man the New Consciousness, Janov. Arthur, Imprints Janov. Arthur, The Anatomy of Mental Illness Janov. Arthur, The Feeling Child, Janov. Arthur, The Journal of Primal Therapy, journal. Grof. S, Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations on LSD Research. Grof. S, Beyond the BrainGrof. S, The Holographic Mind Laing. R.D, and Esterson.A, Sanity Madness and the Family Laing. R.D, The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise Laing. R.D, The Divided Self Laing. R.D, Anti-Psychiatry Cooper. David, The Death of the Family Mitchell. Juliet, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, ' Part 2 Section 1; Radical Psychotherapy and Freud (Wilhelm Reich and R.D. Laing.)' Rycroft. Charles, Reich, Marcue. H, Eros and Civilisation Rowan. John, The Reality Game Mogenson. Greg, God is a Trauma
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