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A Time Line – Wilhelm Reich and the Science of Life Energy


"Wilhelm Reich: A Time Line"
Contribution to the orgonomy conference, "Wilhelm Reich and the Science of Life Energy-Orgonomy" November 9, 2019, NYC.

Introduction of Dr. Harry Lewis by Dr. Alexander Bingham, moderator of the conference:

The first speaker who is Doctor Harry Lewis and he is my mentor as well as one of the only practicing orgone therapists on the planet. And they are few of us and he is most senior at this point and I would like you to welcome him up here for William Reich time line.

Dr. Harry Lewis:

Let me just quickly start by saying that I may be senior but I am not the only orgone therapist in this plant and there a number of others who are present here today. I just want to make a quick remark and give thanks to a couple of people. Dr. Simonian, who really pushed and organized the idea of having a conference in New York. Being a new Yorker I tend to be somewhat skeptical, but being an enthusiastic Californian visionary, he insisted on pushing through and getting it done. It is very pleasing to see so many people here. There is a whole group of people who I know, Dr. Daniel Schiff, who is in Oregon and also works in Mexico City and the group from Mexico City who are here, Patricia Estrada is one of the directors of the training program in Latin America. There are also a number of others very devoted orgone therapists and practitioners which will come up during the conference, but mostly I am pleased to see that there are many people here that I do not recognize and I'm pleased to see them. I'm used to speaking to groups of people in New York whom I have known for the last frothy or fifty years, and they have heard almost everything that I have to say, but since I am seeing you anew, I can repeat myself.

I want also to thank Philip Bennett, who went through the trouble of doing technological work for me which I couldn't even conceive of in writing down my timeline which I have on old fashioned way with a note and on yellow paper. At any rate I want to talk about how we got here today and the key is the work of Wilhelm Reich which started very early in his life. So, the first thing to consider is that Reich's life and work really fundamentally are identical. He is very clear about that; he says that in many occasions in lectures and discussions and some of the tapes which are available through the Museum and the Trust. Reich always felt that the key to his work and his life was that from the very early age, on a farm in Glaicia, he was focused on energy and he was fascinated with the energy of the animals and the energy of nature. In the first volume of his autobiography “Passion of Youth” he states clearly that instead of fallowing money that he was not very good at, he fallowed the energy and that took him to many diverse and strange and wonderful places even to the space.

So, his life and work always revolved around energy. He was born in 1897, in Galicia, which when I was a kid growing up was referred to by most Jewish people as Russ Poland meaning that Russia took over and Poland took it over and the Austro-Hungarian Empire took it over and it was never really settled, but it is very important to understand that it is an incredibly beautiful lake region , farm region and Reich commented on that later in life and part of the reason he ended up in Rangeley , is that when he first saw Rangeley, on a hiking trip it remined him of his ancestors' home. So he goes to Vienna in 1918 and this is the result of a special scholarship that was awarded to veterans of the first world war, as a lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Empire army, realizing that the war was a disaster and futile, he took a job up in the mountains away from fighting and eventually got out and got to Vienna, broke and destitute, and started studing law, got bored with it , which is also true about Freud, he started studying law and philosophy and got bored with it. Reich moved to medicine because that was where biology was and where they were talking about the forbidden topic on some level, of sex and he was interested in that. He becomes a medical student, and pays his way by tutoring other medical students while he was studying medicine and gets his degree. He moves on, is noted by Freud's inner circle in 1919 and is invited into the psychoanalytic movement, which was for young people the place to be in Vienna, where things were really happening. The response of the old guys was that Reich was brilliant and talented except that he used the word “sex” too much. Anyway by 1922-23 he begins to publish and make himself known as very talented researcher and scholar as well as a clinician. He gets to be noticed by Freud, who begins to think of him as as potential person on the rise. During this time, he begins to become interest in social activism. Things were very unstable and radically violent during this period in Vienna, Berlin as well as the whole German and Austrian Empire. He becomes increasingly radicalized and finely becomes deeply associated with the Marxist leftist movements. Unlike most people who become enthusiastic leftist, Marxist or radicals Reich did what he always did, he studied. So, he pulled back and spent a few months, reading all of the Marx and incorporate into his work. I am convinced that he was also reading Engels, because I think Marx is less important for Reich in some ways than Engels. Engels is a central influence in Reich's thinking and development, as well as William Darwin, but Darwin was way ahead of Freud. Freud was frightened that Darwin was going to do it and he was, except that he got it in 1972 and Freud gained all Darwin's notes and information to develop his “Primal Scene”. Reich understood that Darwin was really a central force in all of this and looking in Reich's development, I would say Marx, Engels, Darwin and then Freud, even though Reich would say Freud was central, but Freud probably is less important as many other's for Reich. Again, people whom Reich seemed most interested in, were those who were most interested in energy. By 1930 or so he was risen to a position of leadership in the psychoanalytic movement, particularly in Vienna, that he was the founder of first clinical seminar, he goes to Freud and says the problem is that there are no quantified or empirically establish technique, and the way of learning then was that one of the older members of the community would give you a card and say be in such and such time in this place and a patient would appear, and they would say talk to them, and when you get into a problem come to me and ask me what to do! That was the way you would be trained. Reich talks about it in “Reich Speaks of Freud”

Reich established the technical seminar, out of that technical seminar emerges his first major work which is “Character Analysis” which has profoundly affected the development of psychoanalysis.

Character analysis is still fundamental text in psychoanalytic training. So, Reich becomes the go to person in terms of the movement in psychoanalysis. By 1934 he became clearly identified as a Marxist, but reality is he is active in the communist party and in the streets organizing. He is also active in developing psychoanalytic work with population and real people in general. He is instrumental in the movement of public health clinics called the “sex pol” movement, with his wife Annie Pink and his close associate Otto Fenichel. This gets him lots of attention but it also begins to upset Freud who remains aloof but orders Anna Freud his surrogate to take him down and they did. By 1934 at the Lucerne International Conference of Psychoanalysis they organize a movement to oust him out of psychoanalytic movement.

I will refer you to a very good book in terms of a timeline by David Bodella “Wilhelm Reich Evolution of his work “is available and how step by step Reich developed. So, hopefully when Philip Bennett's book comes out will add to it. But Reich responds to the attacks and to the attempts to remove him he pulls back settles down, organizes his own movement,

At this point he is primarily focused on character analysis, social activity of mass psychology and beginnings of biophysical work which latter on he called vegetotherapy , which in our language sounds a bit strange but it implies the work with the vegetative nervous system, which is the beginning of what he formally moved beyond psychology. One of the crucial things that I will emphasis is that Reich is not at the end a psychologist. From this point on he becomes less and less of psychologist. Orgone therapy is not a psychological system, it uses psychology as the byproduct as a way of understanding human experience in the world but it is not a primary way in. So, Reich is very clear about this by this time, this corresponds to the fact that he is also known as a wanted man, he is in Berlin where his roommate is Willy Brant, who later became the president of the west German Republic after the war. Brant was a leading leftist and a close friend of Reich and remained very positive and loyal to Reich. In those days Reich was known as Willy, he began to go only as Dr. Reich when he moved to the United States. So, he begins to realize that he has to get out of Berlin in 1933. He is very clear that it is not going to last very long before he will be hunted down, so under a pseudonym he gets back to Vienna, takes care of his affaires and begins to travel. He becomes a wondering orgonomist, he goes to Denmark where they actively work to get him asylum but he is refused. He finally goes to Oslo where with the influence of many individuals, who were very powerful he became a resident, and under a resident visa begins to do active work. In this period of time, he begins to pull more and more away from active therapy and becomes primarily focused on vegetotherapy and character analysis and training of therapists. I work in Norway couple of times a year and it is amazing to realize the influence of Reich on Scandinavian mental health which is profound. It is one of the central bodies of work that informs many of the institutes and hospitals, and to tell someone that you are a student of Reich's work or you work in orgonomy is not something which will get you in trouble but will command respect and interest. So, his students at the end of the war took over the mental health movement in most of the Scandinavian countries. People like Nic Waal, Ola Raknes, and others, the development of mental health concept in child development in Scandinavia particularly Norway and Denmark. So, Reich, while becomes increasingly central in these countries becomes less and less interested in teaching people to be psychologists or therapist and increasingly becomes interested in biological research and study of the nature of energy and human existence and life in general. Jim Strick will talk about that very eloquently and I recommend his book, “Wilhelm Reich Biologist” from Harvard University Press. So, In Norway, fascist elements and movements in Scandinavia eventually made Reich realized that it is the time to get out of Norway. He decides that his choices were either he could go to England, as A.S. Neil, his close friend suggested or he could go to the US, where his friend Bronislaw Malinowski was inviting him. Reich decided to come to US since it was less likely that the Germans could invade the US. It was expected that they would take England and soon after would take the continent. So, he emigrates to the US, with the visa to teach because he was invited to teach in the New School, but they do not want to talk about Reich, although there is some information in their archives. In the United States he founds a medical psychiatry seminar and lecture, at the New Scholl for social research and begins to do private practice in Forest Hills New York, Queens, and begins to create a new movement known as orgonomy , orgone science, and moves deeper and deeper into research. So, the doctors would train with him the last one who died few months ago was Dr. Morton Herskowitz.

In United States he became increasingly involved in understanding of the nature and function of orgone energy which he discovered. So, I will sum up and say for Reich, two fundamental principles that he felt he discovered was the function of orgasm, and the discovery of orgone energy. He was clear that he is not the first who recognized the existence of this energy, but he was the first to materially demonstrate as a collectable, workable and useable form of energy with very specific characteristics. This research and work and increased interest in biopathies or illnesses ,diseases and how they can be treated, gets him into position to be attacked by the existing authorities , he is attacked by the groups on the left, groups on the right, and by the Food and Drug administration and medical association who began to actively and persistently attack. It is hard for us to understand how vicious this was and how massive this was. As a kid I will remember seeing the New York Post which was a leftist liberal newspaper in New York City at that time writing articles about this crazy Doctor who was very dangerous and how to get rid of. So, this leads to the finale which is his being attacked by the Food and Drug Administration, with charges that he is a quack and a charlatan, and a fraud, and eventually he was convicted of refusal of honoring the injunction. He sentenced against every body's recommendation including prosecution, to eighteen months in prison, where he dies in November 3rd 1957 in federal prison, dies officially of heart attack. There are some conspiracy theories, that it was staged but there is no evidence of that. At the end of his life this man who was supposedly a fraud and a quack, and a money hustler died totally destitute and broke , three hundred thousand dollars in debt, eventually a woman who was a patient of one of the doctors , Mary Higgins who recently died ,took this on as her life's work and saved what was remaining of the estate and put it back in shape and managed by 1960 to get Reich's work back in print. Reich's books under this prosecution were banned, all of them were banned, and taken out under the supervision of Dr. Soby whom I worked with for years to be burned in incinerator. He and Dr. Handelman used to throw books into laundry bags when they were pouring the books to be burned in the incinerator. Dr. Soby said one of the guards was crying and he asked him why he was crying? Said, I don't understand, I just came back from the war, I was in Germany, we were there to stop this kind of thing and here I am doing it now. That was the end of Reich's work for close to ten years and Marry Higgins in the 1960's slowly started to bring the books back in with the help of Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher, so; that was my quick run through.

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Wilhelm Reich – Founder of Orgone Therapy

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