Adventures in the Orgasmatron tells the story of the pre-1960s sexual revolution in the US, one led by expatriated European thinkers who saw a vast country ripe for liberation. Central to this narrative is the orgone box—a tall, slender construction of wood, metal, and steel wool. A person who sat in the box, it was thought, could elevate his or her “orgastic potential”—ridding the body of repressive forces and improving sexual potency. Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, J. D. Salinger, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs sat in an orgone box, seeking synthesis of sexual and political liberation. Woody Allen satirized it as the Orgasmatron.
The box was the invention of Wilhelm Reich, an unorthodox psychoanalyst and disaffected disciple of Freud who brought his theories of sexual energy to America during World War II. A determined scientist in conflict with a suspicious society, he faced a federal ban on the orgone box, an FBI investigation, a fraught encounter with Einstein (who conducted two weeks of tests on Reich’s invention), and bouts of paranoia that left him unable to defend himself.
Turner’s presentation will elaborate on this surprising story of science, sex, and postwar America, and also feature excerpts from three films: Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973), Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968), and Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971).
This event has been made possible in part by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.