RECORD OF A FRIENDSHIP: The Correspondence Between Wilhelm Reich and A. S. Neill 1936-1957 by Beverley R.--Ed. Placzek

RECORD OF A FRIENDSHIP: The Correspondence Between Wilhelm Reich and A. S. Neill 1936-1957

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The orgone theorist and the guiding light of Summerhill met is Oslo in 1936: Neill had been invited to lecture there, and (having by chance been reading Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism on the boat going across) he was delighted to learn that Reich was in the audience. The friendship was instant, maintained thereafter by letters that lasted until Reich's death in prison in 1957--and Placzek has provided brief autobiographical sketches and explanatory notes in this altogether sympathetic presentation of the voluminous correspondence. When the two men met, Neill, the senior by 14 years, had already achieved a reputation for his serf-regulatory, heart-not-head approach to childhood education. Reich had been tossed out of the International Psycho-Analytical Association, had joined and then left the German Communist Party, and had begun the travels that would end with US residence in 1939. And while the letters will win no literary prizes, they are refreshingly candid and warm on both sides. Reich, ever ambitious at diagnosing human ills and reforming mankind, found in Neill an ardent admirer, advocate, and the gentlest of critics. While Neill was never a ""pure"" Reichian, he was treated by Reich and practiced ""vegeto-therapy"" on some of his students. Clearly the two men saw eye to eye on the sexual bases of neurosis and the need to free people from the ""stiff stomachs"" of orgastic repression. Neill's letters repeatedly echo the difficulties of winning friends for Reichian ideas among establishment scientists and analysts, although he himself modestly disclaims any understanding of orgone theory and the workings of the orgone box (with unintentionally funny comments on the difficulties of obtaining tin to line a box, queries about the need to be naked once inside, etc.); he refers to weariness, illness, sexual problems, ambivalent feelings about psychotherapy and even about teaching problem children; but he remains ever-loyal to Reich, countering Reich's accusatory letters with touching expressions of admiration and love. Reich's letters, meanwhile, display an eerie combination of psychological insight and scientific balderdash, with some very late letters punctuated by the paranoid belief that ""HIG's""--hoodlums in government--or ""red fascists"" are behind his (and the world's) problems. Admirers of both men may find much to cherish in the letters. Impartial observers will grow weary at the inevitable repetitions, but they'll find much here to wonder and whistle at . . . or analyze.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1981
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux