the Orgasmatron


An alternative explanation for the temporary success of Reich, especially among American intellectuals both of the Marxisant stripe and of the do-it-yourself “organic community” sort, is that he was able to propose an essentially mechanical and “scientific” solution to a psychological problem, yet a mechanical solution that could be easily assembled and employed at home. Arriving in the United States in 1939 as one of the many dissident Freudians and heterodox Marxists to have escaped Hitler (and in his own case, also Stalin), Reich was quick to announce the invention of the “orgone energy accumulator.” This device or contraption took the form of a wooden cupboard lined with metal and insulated with steel wool. It was about the size of a telephone booth. In his movie “Sleeper,” Woody Allen satirically referred to the humble resulting structure as “the Orgasmatron”: a ridiculous name deftly annexed by Turner. But the real terms used by Reich to promote the cupboard of ecstasy — “orgastic potency”; “orgone energy” — were hardly less hyperbolic. Turner, an editor at Cabinet magazine, is clearly right to connect the Reich movement to the early stirrings of the postwar sexual revolution: a development that might have occurred naturally and that could well have been apolitical. However, a series of hysterically comic figures on the American right (and one or two rather sinister ones as well, like Senator Joseph McCarthy) claimed to see the figure of Alfred Kinsey, say, as a frontman for a wider conspiracy to sap American morals. It wasn’t long before agents from the F.B.I. and the Immigration and Naturalization Service were calling on Reich, either to ask him about subversive characters he might know, or about his own political past and affiliations. In a way, he made the perfect boogeyman for J. Edgar Hoover, who managed to amass a file of hundreds of pages on a man who must have seemed the perfect fusion of Red menace and sexual pervert.

more from Christopher Hitchens at the NYT here.