A Book of Dreams

The small boy was an officer in the Cosmic Engineers. He helped his father with the machine they used to send beams of mysterious energy into the upper atmosphere, causing rain to fall during a drought. Their ray gun, called a "cloudbuster," had other uses as well. The UFOs that seemed to be keeping track of activities around Daddy's laboratory would try to avoid the beam. You could chase the flying saucers across the sky with it.

Did any of this really happen? When Peter Reich published A Book of Dreams in 1973, his father, Wilhelm Reich, had been rediscovered as, at the very least, a prophet of the sexual revolution - but also quite possibly the discoverer of a hitherto unknown form of energy, called Orgone. (These aspects of his work were related: Good sex makes the Orgone flow.) The older Reich died in a federal prison in 1957, prosecuted, or by some account persecuted, for claiming that Orgone technology could cure cancer. Peter was 12 at the time.

Answering the basic question about Reich - i.e., "genius or madman?" - isn't really the point of A Book of Dreams, which is the most haunting memoir I have ever read. The son says he has no competence to judge his father's claims about Orgone Energy. In the preface to an edition reissued in 1989 (the last one, and now unfortunately out of print) he admits to "still hedging" on the matter.

What certainly was real, in any case, was the aura of discovery and adventure radiating from his father - as well as the sickening terror of watching the laboratory ransacked by G-men, and the complex experience of mourning a father rediscovered by others as a counterculture hero.

This is a book about growing up with a magician: a loving but mysterious father, powerful in his command of the secrets of the universe, but also vulnerable in ways that a boy of 8 or 9 could never imagine. I trust A Book of Dreams, not as a definitive statement of the truth about Wilhelm Reich, but for how it captures the feelings of childhood, when the frontier between reality and imagination can be easily crossed. In the son's own words: "Perhaps the story, released now and no longer secret, generates some energy of its own."

my piece for "Recommended Reading: Critics' Picks," Newsday, 27 May 2007

May 27, 2007 7:54 AM | | Comments (4)



thanks for this. i read peter reich's book over the weekend and found it devastating. i lived at a reichian community for 2 years in the 70s, and the reverberations of believing so strongly in what we were doing and of having lost them by running away stay with me to this day. the vision was extraordinary and much of what we accomplished was as well, together with the certainty that what we were on to could save the world if enough people listened. that has been very hard to let go of--maybe impossible.

I must read this book it sounds fascinating.

And of course it has generated Kate Bush's tribute song Cloudbursting, a sample of which can be seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRf6PILz0u8&feature=related

Wonderful stuff

I have not read this book, but the Kate Bush video is haunting enough!

I would like to read this book but would like to read at least a sample of it before I go spend up to £80 odd on a copy from Amazon. Any ideas on where I can get a copy or read a little bit of it? Or anyone willing to send me a small sample?
Thanks for your time anyhow!

Leave a comment

Recent Work

"Crimes Against the Intellect" 
Last month, in France, playboy philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was indicted for fraud, hucksterism, and general ridiculousness, and there will be a trial tomorrow. Sort of.

Somehow I doubt this is going to affect his standing at The Huffington Post.

Our Living Language 
My column today is about gun nuts. A reader has been in touch to ask whether I meant to use the word "refudiate." Indeed I did, and also tried to sneak in my own made-up word, "newlogism," but my editor changed this to the more standard spelling. Alas!
The Fixer 
What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.

In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*

It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?

Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.

* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a campaign.
Down With New Media! 

Mimi and Eunice, via TechDirt

Allegories of E-Reading 
My end-of-the-year essay about digital readers for The National has inspired a response by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Glad to see him take the hint about Moretti, whose work I wrote about...five years ago? That can't be right. 
Sherry Talks Back 
For my last column of 2010, I asked a few people to identify books they'd read that year that made a big impression on them. The resulting piece came together well and seems to have gotten a decent bit of play -- though one person on Twitter characterized the participants as "Ivy Leaguers and tasteful snobs." Now, a couple of the participants are members of the labor movement, where snobbery, tasteful or otherwise, is not a value. And clearly the fact that I hadn't actually invited anybody from the Ivy League to respond was no obstacle to this individual's exercise of the right to have an uninformed opinion. So it goes. I don't write for stupid people but can do nothing to prevent them from reading.

In any case, two people named Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I also liked very much. And this morning I see that Sherry Wolfe -- whose blog Sherry Talks Back I have been meaning to recommend -- recently stopped by the Chelsea Hotel in the wake of reading the book. Wolfe moved back to NYC last year and the continuing toll of the economy on culture naturally makes a big impression:

As a former denizen of the East Village, from 1988 to 2000, I was eyewitness to that bohemia's twentieth-century grand finale. I moved in the week of the Tompkins Square riot that seems, in retrospect, to have signaled the gentrifiers' victory over a sanctuary of counterculture.

I could still chat on the street back then with The Naked Civil Servant's Quentin Crisp and Howl's Allen Ginsberg or catch a $5 show with Sandra Bernhard, Penny Arcade or John Leguizamo around the corner. But the writing was on the wall as my own rent-stabilized haunt across from the Russian and Turkish Baths on 10th St. slowly drifted toward $1,000 a month.
About the only cultural activity you can still enjoy in Manhattan for no money is people watching--at least that remains one of the most spectacular circuses of humanity on earth.

And of course, artists will always find ways of meeting and mixing with each other in any city, no matter how hard the market tries to homogenize, synchronize and sterilize us all. There's always Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and dare I say, even Staten Island.

I like this (read the entry here) as a response to Smith's book -- that is, the refusal to let reading it turn into an occasion for nostalgia. The spirit of Greenwich Village cannot afford to live in Greenwich Village, but it has work to do, especially right now.

The Quick and the Dead 
A few months ago, I decided not to run for a second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle (for reasons having nothing to do with that worthy institution, and everything to do with my own need to concentrate on other commitments) and I stuck to that decision even when asked a couple of times to reconsider. Nobody not actually on the board knows just how much work is involved. And I don't just mean loading up the hundreds of books that arrive every week onto a cart to transport them to my cubicle at Inside Higher Ed, down the block. That's the least of it.

It turns out that the sheer amount of fantasy about the NBCC is kind of interesting, in a psychohistory sort of way. A case in point being something I read online not long ago about how those of us deciding on the awards are subjected to "lobbying." In three years, I've never heard from a single author, agent, or editor trying to influence me one way or the other. I get pitches from publicists all the time, of course, but they are invariably so clueless that I can't imagine them influencing anyone into reading a book -- let alone reviewing one, much less voting for it.

A fair hunch is that the belief in "lobbying" is a function of litblogger wish-fulfillment fantasies being projected. Somebody at Billy Bob's Book Blog assumes that if he or she were on the board, then famous authors would be inviting them to dinner. Alas, no. Would that this were true. After three years my virtue remains all too untested. But who am I to interrupt anybody's fantasies of glamor by pointing out that serving on the NBCC board just means doing a lot of pro bono labor while the anklebitters gnash their teeth? No good can come of insisting on the realities.

Be that as it may -- and with about ten solid weeks of work to do before the end of my term -- I have resolved to bring Quick Study out of its persistent vegetative state. A few people have expressed disappointment that it has had barely a pulse for the past couple of years. I haven't even bothered to post links to my work, while my Twitter presence has been low-volume and erratic, at best. There are various reasons for all of this, but the desire to explain them in detail seems as much a vice as idleness itself. Anyway, I will try to do better.


Battle of the Titans 
Dinesh D'Souza and Alan Wolfe debating? Imagine a slime mold in conflict with a patch of mildew. It's just that inspiring.
To the Tehran Station 
Not about Edmund Wilson
more picks


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