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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

Wilhelm Reich in Hell

Robert Anton Wilson

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To purchase Wilhelm Reich in Hell

Title: Wilhelm Reich in Hell
Author: Robert Anton Wilson
Genre: Drama
Written: 1987
Length: 165 pages
Availability: Wilhelm Reich in Hell - US
Wilhelm Reich in Hell - UK
  • A Punk Rock Opera
  • Forewords by Christopher S. Hyatt, Ph.D. and Donald Holmes, M.D.
  • Introduction by Robert Anton Wilson

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Our Assessment:

B- : an entertaining piece, with a thoughtful introduction.

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The story of Wilhelm Reich is an unusual one. Certainly, it should be more widely known. The student (and colleague) of Freud, sometime visionary, sometime crackpot managed to draw the wrath of a startling number of governments and organizations. The Nazis drove him away, the Communists kicked him out, and after settling in the United States he was finally undone by the FDA (that's right, the Food and Drug Administration). His books were burned and he died in jail. Few men have been so misunderstood. (Indeed, it has been argued that his current followers also misrepresent his work, Reichians who use Reich for their own purposes.)
       Robert Anton Wilson never much liked government interference on any level, and, naturally drawn to quirky thinkers such as Reich, found in the orgone man a fine subject for a play. In his long and thoughtful introduction Wilson expresses his concern with the attitude with which Reich has so readily been dismissed. Wilson argues that ideas must be examined (though not necessarily embraced), and the shabby treatment of Reich's thoughts (not to say his person) irks him mightily -- as it should. As he points out in one of the play's exchanges, Reich's books were burned (in the United States, where book burning isn't even that popular), deemed so unacceptable that they did not deserve to exist -- which makes one wonder what was in them that could upset people so much. And why people couldn't be trusted to see and judge for themselves.
       The play itself -- a "punk rock opera" -- puts Reich in a circus-ring hell, where he is on trial for his thoughts. A ringmaster (who "may also be Satan") presides over the event. Among the other characters are many Wilson favourites: de Sade and Sacher-Masoch, Leopold Bloom, Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, Abbyjerry Hoffrubin, "a cabbage" named Calley Eichmann, and a chorus of the AMA (American Medical Association).
       There is no question of Reich's guilt, but Wilson uses the characters, particularly de Sade and Sacher-Masoch, to explore the reasons why Reich was and is considered such a danger. Unsurprisingly it boils down to sex and politics.
       Wilson works his arguments in fairly effectively. There is wit and sharpness here, and there is no question that it makes for a decent entertainment on the stage (though we suspect there are few revivals of it). The mix of simplicity and complexity doesn't always work, however. Wilson both hammers home his messages didactically while trying for a certain cleverness that is, generally, too obvious to impress. Reich's multilayered story is complex, but Wilson focusses on certain aspects while neglecting others in a somewhat skewed view. The play is, ultimately, not entirely convincing.
       Still, it is an important story and, coupled with an interesting introduction (which takes up a quarter of the book), Wilhelm Reich in Hell is an interesting read.

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Wilhelm Reich in Hell: Wilhelm Reich: Other books under review about Wilhelm Reich: Robert Anton Wilson: Other books by Robert Anton Wilson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama books

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About the Author:

       American author Robert Anton Wilson achieved his first great success with the Illuminatus trilogy (written with Robert Shea).

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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