Psychobiography meets psychiatric case study in this life of the eminently strange theorist.
Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) was, writes Corrington (Theology/Drew Univ.), one of the most brilliant of Sigmund Freud’s epigones, a thinker who managed to make sexuality even more central to psychoanalytical theory than the master envisioned or intended. Reich, however, also concocted theories that, far from being merely radical, come up on the other side of bizarre: the quackish “orgone box,” which purported to capture what Corrington calls “a new form of massless energy,” a notion that Albert Einstein roundly dismissed, but that certain strands of New Agers have sworn by ever since; equally quackish anticancer therapies that eventually landed him in jail; the repeated assertion, toward the end of his life, that “the more genital potency a person has, the more of nature and its laws he or she will see.” Though Reich wrote such once influential and still timely books as The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Function of the Orgasm, he is condemned and forgotten today, considered by some to be an unfortunate victim of paranoid schizophrenia. Corrington’s civilian effort (he is a philosopher, not a physician) to champion Reich as an unduly overlooked revolutionary thinker is valiant but ultimately unconvincing; no amount of explaining away can make Reich’s self-identification with Christ or tinkering with pseudoscience any more palatable, and Corrington’s attempts to suggest that “orgone energy” is at least a possibility (“how can we know something that has no real contrast term or reality”) will make any rationalist smirk. Perhaps without meaning to, Corrington manages to assemble plenty of evidence along the way that Reich had come unhinged somewhere in the course of a tormented and fearful life. In the end, his portrait of the Austrian thinker will probably not convert many to Reich’s cause—but may instead provoke pity and sympathy over talents wasted and bridges burned.
Unlikely to find much readership outside of the psychoanalytic hardcore.