Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reich and CanLit

As part of background research while working on the Steve McCaffery Open Letter issue I read Grant Goodbrand's Therafields: The Rise and Fall of Lea Hindley-Smith's Psychoanalytic Commune (ECW). Goodbrand's book is complex and deserves a blog-post on its own, but at the very least it seems as fair and balanced an assessment of the organization as we are likely to get from someone who was directly involved in the group. There are no heroes or villains in Goodbrand's book, and he is successful in explaining the human motivations for many of the actions and the resulting disputes that plagued Therafields.

While it's well-known that bpNichol was deeply involved with Therafields and dedicated The Martyrology to Hindley-Smith, Goodbrand's book really foregrounds the importance of Nichol to the psychoanalytic community, and begins each chapter in his study with a quotation from Nichol's poetry.

Another figure that comes up from time to time in Goodbrand's study is the anti-Fascist, pro-sex psychoanalytic theorist Wilhelm Reich. While Therafields was divided about the use of Reichian techniques of breaking down physical "body armour" as way to release psychological blocks, I'm interested to know how many of the community were reading Reich's works.

We know that Nichol was reading Reich, and that since the other members of the Four Horsemen were also involved with Therafields to varying degrees, it is likely they were reading Reich as well. In an essay by Frank Davey on the Four Horsemen, Davey provides this quote from McCaffery about the psychoanalytic influences on his and Nichol's work:

Barrie's theoretical interests at the time were largely psychoanalytic (an interest I am sure that was connected to his own therapeutic work as a lay-analyst). It was Nichol who introduced me to the theories of Wilhelm Reich..., to Alexander Lowen's theories of bio-energetics, to Edmund Bergler's theories of psychic masochism, and to a book of dialogues with his patients by Lacan. This was a radical but different body of theorists from those I was reading.

I have a hunch that knowing which writers, particularly those of experimental and counter-cultural nature, were reading Reich could open doors to investigation in the same way that knowing which Modernists were reading Freud advanced Modernist studies.

I need to revisit Nichol's essays collected in Meanwhile which I recall also mention Reich (one annoying note: both Goodbrand's book and Meanwhile lack indices). But speaking of meanwhile, there are also current writers dealing with Reich's theories such as the poet and artist Sharon Harris who works with modern orgone generators and accumulators. Her orgone site is here.

Anyone who has thoughts on Reich, Therafields, and CanLit, please leave a comment or drop a line.

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