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Inside the Orgone Box

In the classic confessional memoir “The God That Failed,” Arthur Koestler describes some of the characters who made up the constituency of his Communist Party group in Berlin in the early 1930s:

“Among other members of our cell, I remember Dr. Wilhelm Reich. He . . . had just published a book called ‘The Function of the Orgasm,’ in which he had expounded the theory that the sexual frustration of the proletariat caused a thwarting of its political consciousness; only through a full, uninhibited release of the sexual urge could the working class realize its revolutionary potentialities and historic mission; the whole thing was less cockeyed than it sounds.”

Pausing briefly to ask oneself how the word “cockeyed” translates into Berlin vernacular, one next inquires how the theory could have been more preposterous than at first appeared. Apart from his life of tireless and sensational debauchery, Koestler himself was famous for hitching his wagon to various movements of the paranormal and the extrasensory; he might have been expected to give Reich’s oddball theories a try even as both men spun off from the dying planet of Soviet Communism. But what is extraordinary is the number of apparently level and careful people who, in pursuit of the better and bigger orgasm, were prepared to lower themselves into Reich’s jerry-built “orgone box” and await blissful developments. One is not so surprised to read of the enthusiasm of try-anything-once artists like Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, William Burroughs and Norman Mailer. But how must Albert Einstein have felt, while engaged on his two weeks of study of orgone properties? (He did at least conclude that the “box” was an insult to the laws of physics.) Did Saul Bellow not succumb to the queasy feeling that he might be looking like a sap?

Is it too easy to simply speculate that men will make fools of themselves for the sake of sex? As Christopher Turner notices in his very amusing and intelligent book, “Adventures in the Orgasmatron,” George Orwell, not usually associated with promiscuity of any kind, included central elements of the Reichian theory and program almost uncritically in the pages of “1984.” The terrifying inquisitor O’Brien tells the cowering Winston Smith: “The sex instinct will be eradicated. . . . We shall abolish orgasm.” And Winston’s intensely promiscuous girlfriend, Julia, explains why the Party needs sexual repression:

“When you make love you’re using up energy. And afterward you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and Three Year Plans and all the rest of that bollocks?”

Orwell’s relationship with the libidinous was, as we know, a generally distraught one. Did his private resentment on this score inhibit him from seeing that a really clever ruling class would saturate its subjects with all sorts of treats, from the erotic to the narcotic, and enlist them in their own soft slavery by means of hedonism? (Toward the end of his life, this suggestive point was actually put to him in a letter from his old French teacher at Eton, who enclosed a copy of his own latest novel, “Brave New World.”)

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. (One wishes that Reich had had time to do a psychosexual profile of Hoover.) What the investigators actually found, however, was a man whose breach with his Communist past was complete: stating firmly (this was in late 1953) that he favored the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg even though he might “not have wanted to be the executioner.” This may have owed something to a need to overcompensate, and even to impress authority, but we know from other sources that in many ways Reich was quite conservative. According to Paul Robinson in “The Freudian Left”: “Reich seemed to fear his would-be admirers even more than his critics. He was haunted by the thought that men with dirty minds would misuse his authority.” He not only disliked pornography but — in what must count as a startling departure from Viennese theory and practice — was opposed to dirty jokes, believing that sexual emancipation would make them obsolete. In addition, he “abhorred” homosexuality.

“Adventures in the Orgasmatron” has many fine and engaging passages, but I think my favorite must be this one, in which Alfred Kazin describes the pathetic trust in Reich shown by the writer Isaac Rosenfeld. Has there ever been a better description of the baffled naïveté of so many “New York intellectuals”?:

“Isaac’s orgone box stood up in the midst of an enormous confusion of bedclothes, review copies, manuscripts, children and the many people who went in and out of the room as if it were the bathroom. Belligerently sitting inside his orgone box, daring philistines to laugh, Isaac nevertheless looked lost, as if he were waiting in his telephone booth for a call that was not coming through.” This book will change the way in which we employ that increasingly lazy phrase about “thinking outside the box.”


95 percent of the victims of violence are men. Because women feel flattered when men fight each other and kill each other to prove that they are real men.


Revealed: 'Lolita' isn't just a classic novel; Nabokov's story of sick lust really happened

Vladimir Nabokov's novel is a totem in modern literature, an unflinching look at a monster who has been able to hide behind his education and manners. But it's also more than a classic of 20th century literature. Writer and editor Sarah Weinman has published a long, powerful piece of historical reportage about the largely unknown real story that inspired Nabokov's tale.

11-year-old Sally Horner entered a Camden, N.J., Woolworth's more than 60 years with the intention of stealing a 5-cent notepad. She was 11 years old and the thievery was her initiation into a girl's club. Instead, it would prove another, far more sinister initiation. "On the afternoon of June 13, 1948, she had no idea a simple act of shoplifting would destroy her life," Weinman writes in Hazlitt, an online magazine owned by Penguin Random House.

A middle-aged man wearing a suit and a fedora stopped Sally as she left the store. "I am an FBI agent," he told her. "And you are under arrest."

The man, Frank La Salle, was not a G-man. He was an ex-con and sometime mechanic. And a pedophile. He would kidnap Horner, telling her she had to accompany him to Atlantic City to avoid going to prison for shoplifting. Over the next year-plus they would cross the country, ending up in California. Throughout, he forced himself on her sexually while pretending to be her father. "That five-cent notebook didn't just alter Sally Horner's own life, though," Weinman writes. "It reverberated throughout the culture, and in the process, irrevocably changed the course of 20th-century literature."

Horner's tragic story hit the country's newspapers in 1950. Five years later, Nabokov's novel about charming Humbert Humbert and 12-year-old Dolores Haze (a.k.a., Lolita), his sexual obsession, began to arrive in bookstores. Nabokov, having had his manuscript rejected by multiple prosecution-fearful publishers, loathed being asked to explain "Lolita." Which was fine. Plenty of literary critics were willing to explain it for him, rightly or wrongly.

Elizabeth Janeway, reviewing the book for the New York Times in 1958, called it "one of the funniest and one of the saddest books" she'd ever read. The Atlantic magazine, also in 1958, wrote that "there is not a single obscene term in 'Lolita,' and aficionados of erotica are likely to find it a dud."

This was true enough as far it went. Aficionados of horror, however, would be enthralled. The language isn't obscene when compared to a pornographic text, but it certainly is when the reader remembers that the narrator is a middle-aged man mooning over a 12-year-old girl. Then Humbert's "gagged" discomfort as her "legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap," will make you want to gag yourself. Writes Nabokov:

I stroked them; there she lolled on in the right-hand corner, almost asprawl, Lola, the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slipperless foot in its sloppy anklet...

On and on it goes, until Humbert Humbert sees himself -- just maybe, just for a moment -- as he really is, forcing him to let out "the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known."

"I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay," Humbert tells his audience. And we do, such is the beauty and power of Nabokov's prose. We sink luxuriously into Humbert's perversity; we even -- dear God -- understand Humbert's lust, his need.

The New York Times' Janeway believed that was the point, "to underline the essential, inefficient, painstaking and pain-giving selfishness of all passion, all greed -- of all urges, whatever they may be, that insist on being satisfied without regard to the effect their satisfaction has upon the outside world. Humbert is all of us."

And so Frank La Salle, the real-life monster who defiled Sally Horner, must be all of us as well, even though he had none of the sophistication of his fictional alter ego. Nabokov saved newspaper clippings about the case, which he scribbled detailed notes on, but his debt to the defining experience in Horner's life -- and perhaps the defining experience in La Salle's life as well -- remains largely unknown to the reading public. A 2005 Times Literary Supplement essay pointed out that Horner's story "reads as a rough outline for the second part of 'Lolita.'" A biography of Nabokov mentions Horner in passing. But the real little girl has never really surfaced. Weinman isn't surprised:

"Packed as 'Lolita' is with countless other allusions, leitmotifs, and nested meanings, excavating a real-life case wasn't top priority for Nabokov scholars. Sally's plight was written up extensively in local newspapers at the time, but the New York Times never bothered, and eventually, even the hometown media (in Camden, N.J.) forgot about the case."

Maybe it's just as well. Lolita -- Dolores -- has a short-lived victory of sorts in the novel, escaping Humbert and thus sending her abuser into an emotional free-fall. They inevitably meet up again, and this time Dolores, though poor and pregnant, has the upper hand. "She is now an entirely different person," writes Janeway in the New York Times review, "a triumph for the vital force that has managed to make a life out of the rubble that Humbert's passion created, and the monster's mindless activity merely confirmed."

Horner never had an equivalent triumph. She would eventually break away from her abuser and be reunited with her family, but she had trouble adjusting. Weinman points out that decades before the Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard cases, there was little understanding of the mental state of kidnapped adolescents. Newspaper readers at the time surely wondered why Sally didn't escape earlier: after all, she even went to school during her time with La Salle. "Whatever Sally has done I can forgive her," Horner's mother apparently told a UPI reporter. Weinman expertly lays out Horner's reentry into "normal" life. Sally had to officially state that La Salle was not her father, which he insisted he was. "My real daddy died when I was six and I remember what he looks like. I never saw this man before that day at the dime store," she said. La Salle was convicted and sent back to prison, but ultimately this did not mean much to Sally Horner. She had been irrevocably damaged. She would come to a tragic end not long after La Salle's conviction -- until being reborn, just a couple of years later, in Nabokov's novel. Ever since she has been a "girl immortalized, and forever trapped," by Nabokov's brilliance -- and her own bad luck.


Stacey Solomon admits she worried about her vagina after giving birth to two boys

Ruth Langsford, Coleen Nolan, Nadia Sawalha and Stacey were discussing Rebekah Vardy’s brave post-baby body pictures when the conversation moved onto how childbirth affects other parts of your body.

Speaking about her body changed after having her children, Leighton and Zachary, Stacey opened up about how childbirth affected more intimate parts of her anatomy.

She said: “I was really worried about that, I’ve pushed two children out of here you know, what’s left of it?

“I was more worried about that than this,” she said pointing to her midriff.

She continued: “This can’t do whatever it wants,” before pointing to her nether regions and saying: “but I want THIS to be good”.

“I don’t want to have a baby shaped hole.”

Nadia agreed and said: “Let’s be honest, if you have a vaginal birth, it does go a bit doo lally”.

When asked if she thought about having a vaginoplasty, she laughed and said: “I have on occasion thought if I could do it on my lunch break and no one would know, it would be nice to feel a bit more normal.”

Ruth admitted she was shocked by the changes in her body after giving birth to her son Jack with husband Eamonn Holmes.

She said: “No one told me that the belly doesn’t go away straight away. I put on three and a half stone because I lived on carbohydrates and I took ages to lose my baby weight. It was like jelly, it moved on its own.”

Mum-of-three Coleen said: “I liked my flabby tummy after they were born, it was like a marshmallow.

“I was ginormous with all three, when I was five months pregnant with Ciara they brought me in for a scan because they thought it was twins but she was just that big.”


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