Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Man Who Boxed Sex

I spent a considerable amount of time researching Wilhelm Reich over the weekend and I’m not done yet: I’m watching the Austrian documentary film  Wer hat Angst vor Wilhelm Reich? [1] as I write this post. Above is the cartoon “The Man Who Boxed Sex,” a malicious parody of the ‘Orgone energy accumulator’ of Wilhelm Reich. Before leaving this space, be sure to check Kate Bush’s video of “Cloudbusting” (see link below).

These biographical notes are the fruit of my labour:

Wilhelm Reich (24 March 1897 – 3 November 1957) was an Austrian psychoanalyst, a member of the second generation of psychoanalysts after Sigmund Freud, and one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry.

He is chiefly remembered for three things. He tried to synthesize Marxism and psychoanalysis in studies of fascism, producing the book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, inventing Freudo-Marxism. He claimed discovery of what he called orgone energy, which many scientists still dispute and call pseudoscience. The persecution of him and his theories by the Nazi Gestapo in Germany, and later the US government (which burned his books) until his death in a US prison.

Reich continues to influence popular culture. Yugoslavian director Dušan Makavejev made a film about him, W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) and Kate Bush‘s single “Cloudbusting[2] (1985) describes Reich’s arrest through the eyes of his son, Peter, who wrote his father’s story in A Book of Dreams (1973); the video for the song features Donald Sutherland as Reich and Bush as Peter.

He was featured in the documentary The Century of the Self (2002) by Adam Curtis.


I’ve always had a soft spot for the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957) and while researching Freudo-Marxism I investigated him in some greater depth and stumbled upon the acronym Sexpol.

Sexpol is short for Sexualpolitik, German for sexual politics.

And then there is the “Poster de soutien a Sexpol[1], a promotional poster for the French journal Sexpol (1975-80, an index of all the issues + covers here). It depicts a male baby, touching and looking at his penis.

The right hand side bottom of the poster indicates that the photo comes courtesy Instituto W.R. – Mexico, this is as far as I’ve been able to trace the origin of the photo.

There is a Spanish version[2] of the poster which features the “Manifiesto Sexpol” (1936).

The caption at the bottom left reads:

“It is a question of fully affirming, of aiding and safeguarding, the free and healthy life manifestations of the newborn, of children, adolescents, women and men, in an unmistakable manner which forever excludes any social fraud.”

Wilhelm ReichThe Sexual Revolution, tr. unidentified

Wilhelm Reich is credited with joining Freud and Marx, creating what is now known as Freudo-Marxism. In his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), Reich argues that sexual repression leads to fascism. It is the origin of the “make love, not war” credo. Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization (1955) built upon Reich and so did Gershon Legman’s magazine Neurotica. Society is mentally ill, say all these tracts, society needs to see a sociatrist.

The funny thing is, they all got it wrong. “The pill” brought short-lived sexual revolution and a new golden dawn for the alpha male, but did not end wars. It only brought on AIDS. How cruel.

See the end of the sexual revolution, about which I have written previously.

Over at my Tumblr page, I’ve posted two covers[2][3] of Reich’s books.

Evil flowers and skeletons; Baudelaire and Rops

Les Épaves (1866) by Félicien Rops (detail)

Les Épaves (1866) by Félicien Rops (detail)

For Les Épaves (1866) by French poet Charles Baudelaire, Belgian artist Félicien Rops was commissioned to design a frontispiece based on the Adam and Eve with the Tree of Knowledge as Death[1] woodcut by Jost Amman as found [2] in Eustache-Hyacinthe Langlois‘s “danses des morts” essay, where it is erroneously attributed to Hans Sebald Beham.

See Félicien Rops frontispiece in Baudelaire’s ‘Les Épaves’

Grandville as the sorcerer-priest of commodity fetishism

"Les poisson d’avril" (1844) by Grandville, see April fish

“Les poisson d’avril” by Grandville from Another World

Following yesterday’s post[1] on Un autre monde, I’ve been cleaning up my copy of the full text of that fantastic book and furthering my research on it and Grandville (1803 – 1847) in general.

Kindred spirits

The only person coming close in sheer absurdity to Grandville in the Anglophone world is Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) of whom I recently posted his Walking Fish[2].

Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin on Grandville

To my surprise, Baudelaire doesn’t care for Grandville nor his work, literally saying “there are superficial people who find Grandville entertaining; as for me, he scares me.” (translation mine, see Baudelaire on Grandville).

The philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) saw in Grandville’s drawings, especially in Another World, a glorification of commodity fetishism: “The enthronement of the commodity … is the secret theme of Grandville’s art” and “if the commodity has become a fetish, Grandville is its sorcerer-priest.” (translation mine)

English translations

There is no public domain translation of the work of Grandville. There is Stanley Appelbaum’s Bizarreries & fantasies of Grandville: 266 illustrations from Un autre monde and Les animaux (Dover Publications, 1974, 1987).

Commodity fetishism?

Commodity fetishism was of great interest to me in the early 2000s, when I discovered the work of Walter Benjamin. I’m happy to have found a drawing that is proof of Grandville’s status as “sorcerer-priest of commodity fetishism.” The plate is called “Les poisson d’avril” (lit: The April Fishes, but actually French for ‘April Fools’ Day’) [3] in the chapter UN VOYAGE D’AVRIL and depicts fish fishing for humans in an enchanted wood. On their hooks are the commodity fetishes such as “diamants, … croix d’honneur, épaulettes, bourses d’or.” (“diamonds … a cross of honor, epaulettes and gold purses.”).

If you want to browse the on-line version with illustrations, here is the link[4].

There is another world, but it is in this one

Aquatic plants, seashells and madrepores (Aquatic plants, seashells and madrepores) is a plate from Un autre monde by French illustrator Grandville (1803 – 1847).

The illustration alludes to man copying the patterns of nature, like crystallization and petrifaction.

The title of this post “There is another world, but it is in this one” is attributed both to W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939) and French poet Paul Éluard (1895 – 1952) (as “Il y a un autre monde mais il est dans celui-ci”).

Previously on Tumblr: Crystallised Minerals by Alexandre Isidore Leroy de Barde.

Mark the severe ptosis of the breasts

La Tentation de St Antoine, ornée de figures et de musique, engraving by Antoine Borel after François-Rolland Elluin.

This is quite something. It’s been a while since I’ve had a find like this one. Mark the severe ptosis of the breasts and the general atmosphere which pre-dates the diableries.

The Bibliographie des principaux ouvrages relatifs à l’amour notes[1]:

La Tentation de saint Antoine (p. Sedaine). — Le Pot-pourri de Loth (p. P. Lalman, ou, selon la France littéraire, par Poinsinet). Londres (Paris), 1781, 2 part, en 1 vol. in-8 avec mus. gr.,portr. de Sedaine, front, et 17 pi. en taille douce, dont quelques-unes libres. Bozerian, 20 fr. — Il y en a aussi une édit. Cazin, 1782, in-18, av. 17 fig. non libres ; peu commune.

The math of Noah’s Ark

Over the course of last summer I read Philipp Blom‘s A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment (2010), a book about the petite histoire of the D’Holbach’s Coterie.

One of its most memorable passages describes Abbé Mallet’s entry on Noah’s Ark which cites Bishop John Wilkins’s mathematical breakdown of the food needed on Noah’s Ark. Fascinating.

Also, Wicked Company notes more. It notes how the alphabetical order in the Encyclopédie was regarded as a heresy in itself (just as it had been in Bayle‘s Historical and Critical Dictionary), since according to contemporaries, God should be the measure of things, not something mundane as the alphabet. It also notes how in the diagram “Figurative system of human knowledge[1], also known as the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert, theology is but a subclassification of both philosophy and reason, and not a source of knowledge in and of itself.

By the way, there is another fascinating diagram based on the tree of Diderot and d’Alembert, called ‘Essai d’une distribution généalogique des Sciences et des Arts principaux[2], representing a more narrative genealogical distribution in the shape of a very large cactus-like plant of which the leaves are filled with text.

Image sourced at the wonderful Il Giornale Nuovo.

See also: Concerning the surface of God

A summary of Roland Topor’s ‘Joko’s Anniversary’

Much like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Joko of Roland Topor’s novel/play Joko’s Anniversary is the breadwinner of a family. Gregor Samsa is a travelling salesman, Joko works at the ‘Reservoir’ and his family consists of a mother, a father (who collects advertisements and is invalid) and two sisters.

“the old fellow got nimbly to his feet and leapt back on his shoulders”

One day, en route to work, Joko is jumped by a man who wants to piggyback Joko as if he were a taxi. This is his first encounter with seven otherworldly characters who are visiting his town for a convention. Joko and his colleagues at the Reservoir start to transport Wanda, Sir Barnett, Pozzi, Professor Krank, Pan Ton, Gunnar Ader and Doctor Fersen around the city and they are handsomely rewarded for their carrying services with gold coins.

One afternoon, while Joko is being straddled by Sir Barnett, he faints and falls. When he wakes up he finds that he has ‘fused‘ with Sir Barnett at his back, as if they were glued together. Their skins have been grafted together where they touch when piggybacking. Joko takes Sir Barnett home to his room. One by one, Wanda, Pozzi, Professor Krank, Pan Ton, Gunnar Ader and Doctor Fersen come to his room and they all fuse to the body of Joko. Meanwhile, Joko, is being maltreated by his ‘parasites‘ and they proceed by killing his two sisters, his mother and father. Before they die however, his mother and father succeed in killing all of the seven parasites with an axe.

When Joko wakes up he finds that the seven have disappeared and that his wounds have healed. However, it appears that the creatures have found a place inside his body. He is the host to the seven bodies who each in turn commit terrible atrocities when being in control of his body. Joko decides to kill himself, without success however and while he and his body survive, the parasites inside him die and start to spread a stench after a week or so. Exactly one year after the parasites’ death, a bus of tourists stops in front of Joko’s door, saying in unison: “Congratulations Joko!”

See also:

We who cannot

Last weekend, I bought Joko’s Anniversary (1969) by Roland Topor.

Reading the opening pages, it dawned on me that Topor’s novel starts where Baudelaire’s “To Every Man His Chimera” (1869) left off, exactly one hundred years earlier.

A good illustration with regards to Joko’s misfortunes: “You who cannot” (1799) by Francisco Goya, published hundred seventy years earlier.