Reich was born on 24 March 1957 in Galicia, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (although it is now in Ukraine). Shortly after his father’s death in 1914, he was obliged to flee his home when the Russian army invaded. During the First World War he served with the Austrian Army, and then entered medical school at the University of Vienna. In October 1920, he joined the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association, and thereafter worked at University Hospital and at Freud’s Polyanalytic Polyclinic. He also studied neuropsychiatry under the nobel prize winner, Professor Wagner-Jauregg.
In 1924, Reich married Annie Pink, a fellow analyst-in-training. Their first daughter, Eva, was born the same year; a second daughter followed in 1928.
Reich began to keep a diary in 1919 when still a medical student, at the time he also wrote a memoir. This material was used by editors Mary Boyd Higgins and Chester M. Raphael for Passion of Youth: An Autobiography 1897-1922 published in 1988 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux (New York). Subsequently, the same publisher produced three further volumes of Reich’s personal writing, as edited by Higgins: Beyond Psychology: Letters and Journals 1934-1939 (1994), American Odyssey: Letters and Journals 1940-1947 (1999), Where's the Truth?: Letters and Journals, 1948-1957 (2012). The first three of these books are freely available online thanks to Ross Wolfe (Passion of Youth, Beyond Psychology, American Odyssey), and substantial parts of the fourth (Where’s the Truth?) can be previewed at Googlebooks.
The following extracts are taken from American Odyssey.
7 February 1941
‘I am actually a decent, self-critical fellow and people who call me a charlatan ought to be ashamed of themselves. Just reviewed my journals on the orgone from two years ago. How precisely I felt mv way through all that!! I feel somewhat moved by my own actions. How easy it is for someone to criticize from his high horse, but how difficult it is to overcome the worry, doubt, hesitation, the sleepless nights, the feelings of worthlessness, because one's thoughts are so “verboten.”
12 April 1941
‘Clarity of thought dwells in immense loneliness, in spaces like those separating the stars, billions of light-years wide, so that the bodies do not clash but simply revolve in solitude. Bodies are unhappy and cannot think clearly when they are crowded, where one foot treads upon another. Occasionally they feel impelled toward the crowd. in order to see whether it has changed and whether they still fit in But the members of the crowd have not changed. They continue to push and shove for a little space. They do not sense, cannot imagine the vast infinities, for they fancy themselves secure when they inhale a neighbor’s sweaty scent. Once in a while you find a person who looks as if he were able to imagine the infinities. You speak to him of loneliness and as he listens a glow brightens his face. He appears to understand even though he does not. Finally you discover that he is commonplace, extremely banal, narrow, lethargic, vain. He has sighted loneliness in the mirror - and he flees - or he accompanies you a part of the way, soars with you, only to crash back down into the crowd - wasted energy! Then you live in solitude once again where you can think and breathe freely.
It is good to dive into the crowd once in a while, to convince oneself that it is a mere shuffling, back and forth, with no purpose or goal, just shuffling, back and forth.
Then you return to breathing the pure, fresh air of the mountains, where it storms and worlds collide. Happy? No! But alive!’
28 September 1941
‘One illusion numbers among the prerequisites of all achievement: the lofty feeling of succeeding someday. I am aware, however, that it lies in the nature of all development to turn against itself.
This is a law of nature; it belongs to the knowledge of functional biophysics! According to this, when sex economy spreads, as Marxism, psychoanalysis, and Christianity did, it will be a living corpse. It is not human malice but rather biological degeneration which causes the destruction. Unarmored plasma repeatedly attempts to raise itself to the stature of cosmic functioning by making discoveries, striving “ahead.” It’s as powerless as a drop of water on a sea of fire. We don’t even know what “consciousness” is. Thus we always sink back into lifelessness after our mighty efforts.
Only one thing could suspend this law: a gigantic discovery transcending the cosmic, natural law, like the disclosure of how consciousness perceives itself. In other words, a discovery which would put the natural law at mankind’s disposal. This will begin with the discovery of the function of self-perception in living plasma. Until then there is no solace.’
3 April 1944
‘A new member of society: Ernst Peter Robert Reich, my son. Bom at 1 a.m. after great pain. His facial expression is “earnest” and “pensive.” I hope he remains that way. Eva and the nurses claim that he’s very much like me. He immediately began nursing with quiet eagerness. No difficulties at all. In utero he experienced many a wave of his parents’ orgastic pleasure.
Numerous interrelated facts have given rise to my conviction that sexual lifelessness in a mother is harmful to the child in her womb. Conversely, I feel that experiencing the pleasure of the mother’s body is natural and promotes a child's development.’
‘Further changes. I have been told that “everyone” in New York is talking about my work. “Everyone”!
The Soviet Russians news agency, Tass, has ordered a copy of The Mass Psychology of Fascism for a book review.
There is a new movement among church people: away from the church toward social work on diseased mankind!
Until now antireligious mechanism and religious mysticism were in direct opposition. In the U.S.S.R. the conflict was clear and outspoken.
Now, through the discovery of the orgone, a unification of natural science and religion has become possible. Natural science will have to accept the existence of emotional or biological energy, and religion will have to accept the existence of orgonity.
The age-old conflict which divided me against myself for twenty-five years was that between science and politics. Today, in 1946, this conflict has manifested itself socially in the form of a clash between Wolfe, who favors the strictly scientific, and the church people, who incline toward social work.
One cannot dismiss this invasion of sex economy into the church (as Wolfe does) simply because one is against the church!
Wolfe and Gladys Meyer, his wife, do not want Protestant ministers to be trained as sex-economic social workers. Meyer herself was once a member of the church and now hates it. They feel that the important thing is the orgone, and that people are only a secondary consideration. The ministers, they say, should leave the church if they want to work in the field of sex economy.
Today I invited Wolfe to have a talk. His reply was: “I don’t feel there’s any sense in it under the present circumstances.” What are the present circumstances”? Just today I sent Wolfe two patients.’
‘I wonder about the Midwest of the U.S.A. Different human beings?
Should I step into the open, into the masses?
Am I sitting like a crab on its hind legs? Should I wait for invitations to lecture or arrange them myself? West Coast wanted lectures. There is this deadly deadlock between people’s wanting and not being capable of doing.
I must wait until they come to me, socially, and not only sexologically.’
28 November 1947
‘They, the lawyers themselves, do not believe in the existence of the orgone. They did not read the literature. Culver said, when I gave him the letters of the physicians about the orgone: “Now I feel better” - that is, he did not believe a word before that.
It is obvious, quite obvious, that I have become unfit for dealings with average people. I am too far off in my ways of being.’
16 December 1947
‘The Food and Drug Administration retracted its vice suspicion; but now “I am sending out orgone accumulators to cancer patients”? The FDA is surely pushed by someone all out to kill the accumulator. This is a fight of Pest + State + Politics against open, honest work. The BIG GAME is on.’
The Diary Junction