by Laurence Miall on July 9, 20117 comments
The Guardian has reviewed a book so weird that it cries out to be read tout de suite: Adventures in the Orgasmatron: Wilhelm Reich and the Invention of Sex. It’s a history of Wilhelm Reich, a pupil of Sigmund Freud, who invented the orgone energy accumulator – dubbed the Orgasmatron by Woody Allen – and thereby influenced a generation of intellectuals with his advocacy of orgasmic potency as the cure for all mental health problems.
No less than Albert Einstein once accepted Reich’s invitation to investigate the orgone accumulator’s physical properties (Einstein thoroughly debunked the contraption, which was “a wooden cupboard about the size of a telephone booth, lined with metal and insulated with steel wool.”) Despite the orgone accumulator’s dubious efficacy, writer Saul Bellow used to sit in one every day. William S. Burroughs boastingly wrote “Your intrepid reporter, at age 37, achieved spontaneous orgasm, no hands, in an orgone accumulator built in an orange grove in Pharr, Texas.”
Norman Mailer took all this one step further and built his own variants of the orgone accumulator in his barn in Connecticut. In his famous essay, “The White Negro,” he wrote how the hipster “seeks love . . . love as the search for an orgasm more apocalyptic than the one which preceded it.”
The Food and Drug Administration spent $2 million investigating Reich for fraudulent claims made about the orgone accumulator and in 1954 he was ordered by a court to stop hiring and selling his machine. By this time, “Reich had started to suffer from paranoid delusions that the world was under attack by UFOs.” He died in 1957.
As strange as Reich’s tale is, it exposes the very earnest hopes (and fears) that were invested in sexual liberation during the 20th century. The Guardian ends its review with a quote from Aldous Huxley taken from the preface to Brave New World, which posits a rather contrarian view to the Reich-ian enthusiasm for orgasms… Huxley wrote “as political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator . . . will do well to encourage that freedom . .. . it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.”
With pornography having rendered solo orgasms readily accessible to millions without so much as a flicker of sexual imagination required, it’s worth asking whether Reich’s orgasmatron was in some respects simply a clumsy precursor to the XXX realm of the Internet. We might yet live to see the day of the apocalyptic orgasm!