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1990 Summer Conference:
The Voice of Wilhelm Reich
This year's summer conference, sponsored by the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust Fund at Orgonon, the 11th annual, was a rare opportunity for students of orgonomy to hear an entire week of tapes from the Reich archives. These tapes were selected from among many made by Reich to record his lectures, seminars with physicians and social workers, discussions, business meetings, and other material which he wanted to document for posterity. Excerpts of this material have been used before at previous summer conferences, but this was the first time in 40 years in which an entire five-day course was to be taught essentially by Wilhelm Reich. The meeting was attended by 30 physicians, teachers, social workers and others from all over the United States and Europe, from 23-27 July. One of those present for all the meetings we heard on tape, Dr. Chester M. Raphael, was also a participant in the conference, and thus was available to consult on his recollections about the context of the proceedings, any point where the tape was difficult to make out, etc., and this was another very fortunate and useful aspect of the class.
The first day was devoted to "The Importance of Method in Scientific Research and Reich's Discovery of the Armor." The tape was of a seminar led by Reich with orgonomically trained physicians. Reich had opened up by inviting the doctors to bring in material from specific cases for discussion at the seminar, but wished first at this meeting to go into some basic theory with them. He elaborated on the theory of scientific method beginning with Kant, who he said "was the first to investigate how we investigate." Referring to the Einsteinian school, Reich commented "They work with reason, but they don't know how reason comes about." Reich described the beginnings of his method in his first years as a psychoanalyst. Psychoanalytic method was inadequate because the patients "were shut, like dead cats, corpses," and that caused him to feel like pushing at the defenses, pushing repeatedly at the same spot until he got some feeling expressed. One student asked "So what got you going was that the patients' armor caused motor unrest in you and made you feel compelled to push it?" Reich concurred. He went on: "In every activity it's like an amoeba attracted to a bion. You see movement in the amoeba first, then the bion begins to move." This interchange was typical of the lively give and take between Reich and his students, which we heard all week. It also reveals one of Reich's features most appealing to me: the use of graphic examples and metaphors in plain language which makes even his difficult technical works appealing and accessible to people.
Reich's direct manner of pointing out mistakes to students was also impressive. One frequently heard him respond "Why do you bring that up now? It's not related." Or "That's just talky-talk. It's evading the point." He did not hesitate to suggest to his students that they needed to constantly observe their own motives in asking particular questions, since the nature of his work was emotionally disturbing to many, and the tendency to evade the central issues, e.g., the sexuality of children and adolescents, was great. To quote an example brought up by one student, Reich said that it illustrated
"taking something completely in the wrong realm" and encourages the student to "take pleasure in realizing your mistakes instead of being a 'fake knower.' I want you all to keep this term going, it's a very good one, a 'fake knower', someone who doesn't know but who pretends to."
When discussing the armoring process, Reich referred much to a diagram (see p. 65 of Ether, God and Devil, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973) which he had drawn on the blackboard. The process begins with the expression of some need or drive, e.g., "you're a child who wants to play but your father tells you to sit still, or wants to investigate something and your mother slaps your hand." The organism reacts by withdrawing, becoming restless and/or fearful. The next response, said Reich, is to "try to get that damn obstacle out of the way!", i.e., rage.
"This sequence repeats itself again and again, and only if the organism cannot avoid it and cannot find another pleasure to replace the original, or get beyond the obstacle, does the original impulse become forced, violent or destructive. So far this process is all natural. It occurs all throughout nature in many different animals....The obstacles outside [the organism] are natural, they're just not neurotic. The amoeba has its obstacles too." (All emphasis in original quotes, throughout)
In the discussion Reich makes the point that if the child has a tantrum at this point in the process, it is not neurotic. Only later when the child begins to hold in its anger, has armoring begun.
The second day of the conference was devoted to a taped meeting of the Orgone Infant Research Center (OIRC) sometime in 1950. It involved a talk with the parents of one of the children studied (the case reported in Children of the Future, pp. 89-113), and examination of the child, and a discussion of the case by Reich. In addition to the material later published on this case, a number of important points were made. For instance, referring to the mother's depression over feeling less than ideal, Reich noted:
"When she felt tense, the child nursed poorly and was not satisfied at the breast. The sucking process is not only a mechanical physical intake of fluid. We have always assumed that the quality of the milk must change when a woman depressed...whether the nipple is sweet or sour. Now we don't know what that means, 'sour.' But I'm going to try to relate it to hyperacidity in the stomach in depression....When we say that somebody 'turns sour' emotionally, it refers to an actual physical reality in the body of the person."
This child eventually developed a bronchitis. Reich noted that most doctors would see this as nothing abnormal:
"'Why shouldn't the child get a cold?' and so on. But we try to keep an open mind on these matters....If we assume orgone biophysical unity of child and mother, then how can we separate the cold from the mother's depression?....I am inclined to understand a cold as a disturbance of the bioenergetic equilibrium of the child. Perhaps the lining of the tubula react to the emotional changes one way or another....It's important to ask such questions."
Perhaps the most important point in this meeting was Reich's emphasis that no mechanical prescription for handling these problems is possible; i.e., that the essential element was the quality of the contact on the part of the physician, social worker, parent, or whoever the intervening person might be. The child being examined was crying and in considerable distress. The chest was held rigidly high. Reich felt a need to help it. He just put his hands on the sides of the child's thorax, and it felt the warmth. He very gently stroked the intercostal muscles, but did not 'massage' the chest (see Children of the Future, p. 107). Reich described the results:
"Then the child caved in. It peed. Felt relieved. I was surprised. I had never seen anything like that before. My daughter, Dr. Eva Reich, after 6 years in medical school and 2 years working in a hospital...asked 'What did you do there?! How did you do that?' And I said to her: 'What does a painter do when painting a landscape? Does he paint a blue spot 2 cm. by 2 cm., and then outside of it a green spot 1/2 cm. in diameter, and then a streak of white 10 cm. long by 1 cm. wide? No. He just paints it.... Of course I could see that the chest was high, but I wasn't going on a formula. I just came there, and out of my knowledge came what I did. I didn't massage or even tickle....If we could just teach this much to doctors and nurses, we'd be accomplishing a great deal."
The child soon began crying again, and it became clear that its chest was held rigidly high. Reich tried again to get it down. After awhile of no success, he said:
"I can't deal with the armor. You can't [turning to his students] do anything about it. The mother needs to work on this. [Then, to the child, as it cries] Yes, be angry! Be angry!!"
The child responds by crying more vigorously and deeply, then after awhile calms a bit. Reich:
"Now what did I do?....It has nothing to do with quantity....It has only to do with having contact with this baby and how it feels....Now I'm sorry to have to repeat this again, but what I don't want is for social workers, psychologists, etc. to go out and press down babies' chests [mechanically]..."
Yet he feels anxious about the danger that the professions would turn it into this, to make money. He says it could be important for parents to be able to do this kind of first aid. Dr. Singer says that in the community he works in, however, out of 100 mothers he had interviewed, only two had the contactfulness to be able to do this. Reich: "This cannot be ignored. It must be taken into account. It's clearly a major obstacle."
At this point in the meeting, Dr. Raphael had presented his report on orgone treatment during labor, later published in Orgone Energy Bulletin (vol. 3, pp. 90-98). Since he was present at our meeting this summer Dr. Raphael told us about these cases in person. He emphasized that in modern medicine
"The tendency is to direct attention only to where the pain is, rather than to the total organism. I hadn't the slightest idea what to do in this situation (having been called to help out a woman having difficulty in labor with some kind of orgonomic 'first aid'), but in observing her, I felt what I could try....You have the feeling that you can do something about it. It seemed so clear and effective, and after all these years nothing more has been done with it yet...."
Day three of the conference featured a tape from 1950 on "The Relationship Between Work and Organization." In this meeting with his students, Reich discussed how the Wilhelm Reich Foundation, its daughter departments like the OIRC, the Orgone Institute Press, and the Orgone Institute Research Fund, as well as the separate, independent Orgone Institute were related to one another, and why he had set up the organizations in this way. He also went into some depth on his attitude about how coworkers must behave in order to remain associated with him, and his reasons for this. Since many writers have described Reich's attitude on this as rigid and authoritarian, this material is of great importance. I cannot emphasize enough in this context the importance for the participants of actually hearing Reich's voice on this subject, as well as his own words. The kind of bossy, inflexible tone of voice and manner of dealing with people conjured up by those writers as their image of Reich was simply not there in what we heard. We heard the highly animated voice of a man convinced of the seriousness of his work and completely rational about his reasons:
"As long as you are connected with the Orgone Institute, you are not free agents, you cannot do as you please. If you want to be on your own and do as you please, you must disconnect yourself from the 0.I. Why? Because if you're on an army staff at war, with lives at stake, self-regulation is not valid there....There is a basic natural law which I described in the paper on orgonometric equations, and that law binds you down....I would like to ask you to help me kill the license ideology in our midst...the main necessity is that of fighting the plague. That means that we are organized not like an organization of free human beings, but more like a university staff or the staff of a military service....I am at war for 30 years. That's not my personal choice, but I am at war...."
Reich went on to emphasize to his students that the Orgone Institute was a legally registered name synonymous with him himself and kept separate from all the organizations in which his students and coworkers participated, i.e., that only he was the Orgone Institute:
"No one here has the right to say anything in the Orgone Institute. You don't like that, eh? The Orgone Institute is I. If I hadn't done it that way, we would have gone down many times already....A worker in a clinic or the laboratory is an assistant, a helper in this task...."
Reich was very concerned about the standard American notions of democracy and voting. He felt that both could be very destructive and went to some length to set up a structure in which voting by people who had not actually done the work could not take over something created by the real work of others like himself. He cited the takeover of the Hamilton School and the throwing out of Hamilton, the man who had actually created it:
"I know from experience over a long period of years that the little man, just with his vote, could take over anything. It happened to Hamilton. The discoverer of television dynamics is out, and a few little, clever politicking fellows took it over....You vote by taking responsibility for what you're doing, by working. We can vote with or without raising our hands. Raising of hands is not a responsible democracy—it lacks responsibility and toil and worrying....All formal democracy went down because of it....Dr. McDonald, for example, works in the lab here as my assistant. If she wants to go and set up a research lab elsewhere and develops in accordance with our line, we'll have the development of a new function. But if she makes a discovery which goes against me, then she's got to fight for it on her own. She's got to support such a thing based on her own work, not just on a vote. We cannot go and vote about whether to freeze a tube of a bion preparation. You can't vote about it: that's work! You have to do it! You have to watch out for the one who, knowing the least, wants the most honor. Those are the Stalins, the destroyers of human society."
Reich also discussed how the various organizations were funded: the Orgone Institute from his own personal income, since it was him personally; the W.R. Foundation and the non-profit public service agencies under its umbrella by private donations, fees for service at clinics, rental fees for accumulators, etc. He firmly stated that "No contributions go to the Orgone Institute. Any money like that goes to the daughter institutions which are under the Foundation. Now, does anyone have any questions about this? Don't be embarrassed to ask because I'm talking about money..." Nobody asked any questions, which is significant, because later, toward the end of the meeting, Reich brought up for discussion a rumor he had heard that contributions the physicians were making to the Orgone Research Fund were actually kickbacks, going into his pocket. Reich had discovered that many of the physicians knew about the rumor and none had done anything about it, implying that they believed it might be true. He was very direct in his response to this behavior:
"We will not accept any checks from any of you for a long time to come. I will not accept any money which is not freely given. I want you all to understand that we are completely independent of your checks. The income from the accumulators is the majority of our income now. But I don't want your contributions unless all this mud and shit is cleared out of the work."
Questioning the physicians one by one, he asked "What did you think? Why didn't you do anything about the rumor? Why were you giving the money? What did you think it was going for? Was it of your own free will?" After much hemming and hawing (one could imagine the squirming), the main feeling which seemed to emerge from most of the doctors was "I felt guilty about riding on your back" and "I thought you deserved the money, that it might go for lab supplies and such." In other words, none of them knew clearly their own motives or had felt responsible to find out what their contributions were going to support. One participant at this year's conference, Dr. Stuart Ascher, pointed out that Reich was trying to show them: 'Your giving money is just like the way you vote. You're thinking that just giving money, like voting, is what's necessary to be working. But empty voting without knowing what it's going for, is like empty money giving.' Most of us present felt this a very apt analysis. The unity of Reich's approach was clear, and his tenacity in going after emotional "dirt" behind the scenes was admirable. This was an impressive demonstration of what he called doing practical social psychiatry. After the air was cleared, the taped meeting ended on a note of "I feel much better now that all this is out," echoed by all present.
The fourth day featured a tape by Reich in March 1952, to document the aftermath of the Oranur Experiment. It began on March 8th with Reich using a Geiger counter to demonstrate the unusually high rates of activity in the observatory building, especially near the large stone fireplace whose rocks had been disintegrating noticeably for the previous two months. Many of us had read Reich's account of this in "The Blackening Rocks" (OEB, vol. 5, pp. 28-59), but to actually hear the clicking of the Geiger counter increase from 50 or 100 cpm to 2,000 cpm as he approached the fireplace, and to 20,000 cpm over the red tile top of one worktable in the observatory, was a spine-tingling experience. One felt the danger, the anxiety of working in a contaminated environment, in a way that books alone could not communicate. Reich:
"The rock gives off secondary nuclear radiation. The primary orgone energy in the atmosphere fights with the secondary N.R. being released from the disintegrating rock. This produces disease symptoms....The processes are self-regulatory. They cannot be stopped....I am taking the personal responsibility of staying here in the observatory despite the hardships...to investigate the effects on the living organism. All the mice in the students' lab have died....Who will or will not be left alive, we shall see....I believe a boy of 18, 19 or 20 fighting in Korea is doing about the same, fighting for freedom."
A number of other workers on the tape also verified observing the position of the G-M tube, the high readings at the fireplace and tabletop, the crumbling of the fireplace stones, etc. At a meeting on Saturday 29 March 1952, all of them were present to discuss the situation: Reich, Simeon Tropp and his wife Helen, Lois Wyvell, Michael Silvert, Myron Sharaf, Tom Ross and Ilse Ollendorf. Reich opened the meeting by summing up:
"I personally believe that everything will come out alright. I have exposed myself to extra doses of oranur since January 5, 1951, have lived in it continuously, and I'm still alive..."
He describes the general effects on organisms exposed: initial shock and paralysis, followed by
"a ferocious fighting back against the disturbance. This we call the DOR reaction. Third comes adjustment to the situation and a slow adaptation to the requirements of a higher energy level of functioning. The level keeps getting higher and higher here. Will it ever stop? I don't know."
The final day's session was a tape of the final lecture to the 1950 International Orgonomic Conference, Reich's talk of 26 August on "Man's Roots in Nature." This was later expanded upon in Chapters 2 and 8 of Cosmic Superimposition. The full text of the talk is to be transcribed and published in the forthcoming volume of the new journal from the W.R.I.T.F., Orgonomic Functionalism. In this talk, Reich presented his findings on the significance of the "ring" of the aurora borealis and the common functioning principle with formation of galaxies and hurricanes. Reich spoke powerfully, and my attention was riveted, even during highly technical astronomical sections. During the question and answer session, he was lively, working with profound ideas, yet still always showed the intensely personal nature of superimposing orgone energy streams. His closing remarks were deeply moving as well, and at no time during the week did we feel more privileged, as if we were personally at a talk by Wilhelm Reich, and as if his remarks were to us personally. Congratulations are due to Mary Boyd Higgins for an excellent job of organization and selection of material. Next year's conference will have a truly tough act to follow!
I wish to let Reich's comments close this report as they did the 1950 and the 1990 conferences:
"You will all go home now, but I hope you got one thing: a bit of courage and conviction. You are not alone....We need a bit more fist, more hardness, rational hardness in defense of what we know is right....If you stand your ground, each one of you will become a center. This is not a very pleasant position. It requires tremendous responsibility. And to be very humble...."
(We are grateful to author and lecturer J. Strick for preparing this Conference Report.)
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