on 29 January 2004
Yes, I know, everyone's saying that, but it IS a neglected masterpiece.
The bulk of the book deals with "character armour" and "affect blocking" - the ways in which people suppress and shut down emotions by developing characteristic responses and forms of bodily rigidity. The last chapter, a case study on schizophrenia, is a masterpiece in its own right, perhaps the first example of anti-psychiatry and a forerunner of "Listen, Little Man" in Reich's angry and pointed denouncement of the stupidities of "homo normalis". For Reich, psychological normality is not at all the same thing as "mental health".
This is one of a very few theoretical books which directly engages with people's lives - you can read Reich and perhaps become aware of the character-armour you've developed yourself, the reactions of people around you and the genesis of apparently inexplicable social phenomena. In addition, Reich is a pioneer of the idea of bio-power; his analysis combines understandings of the body, the psyche and social relations in a manner unheard-of in his day. A truly magnificent book.
on 3 September 1998
Conventional wisdom has it that the firest two-thirds of this treatise on character analysis improved psychoanalytic technique, focusing on character-based resistances rather than just on interpreting content--associations, dreams, etc. True enough, but the last third, which analysts and critics say represents Reich's slippage into maddness, is even more brilliant and farsighted. Here, Reich moves into the area of bioenergy and body-based psychotherapy. He presages some modern developments in psychotherapy, and in many respects, moves ahead of where mainstream therapy resides today. His bioenergy/therapy integration was also a forerunner of much of today's alternative mind-body and energy medicine modalities. Reich was not always the most trenchant writer, but here is writing his sharp, direct, and provocative. This is Reich's great contribution, still largely neglected.
on 15 October 2007
This is a challenging book especially for a lay person such as myself. Reich may have been on to something but he may also have been going mad.
The first two parts of "Character Analysis" cover Reich's move away from classical psychoanalysis as he decided his patients were sustaining their "mental" illness by means of chronic muscular tensions: the "character armor". He decided that talk therapy was unproductive: due to resistances people were not reporting genuinely. So he turned to direct physical activities.
The third and final part of "Character Analysis" is as extraordinary as it may be baffling. Reich believed he had found a cosmic life force, "orgone energy", the disturbance in the flow of which in a person led to neurosis or psychosis. He believed that an invention of his, the "orgone accumulator", might help a person by providing orgone energy to them. He provides details of the body work he conducted with a psychotic patient in the intense chapter "The Schizophrenic Split". He concludes with his concerns about "emotional plague" as an explanation for mass movements such as Fascism. Reich appears to be struggling in this third part of the book, at times he seemed brilliant to me, at times he seemed quite disturbed. To what extent he was reaching to find ways to express important findings is unclear. He seems to have overreached but that may not invalidated some or much of what he presented. It's hard to tell.
Although Reich's use of the "orgone accumulator" led to his imprisonment, body work based on his ideas and techniques has continued. Alexander Lowen developed the psychotherapy Bioenergetics based on Reich's findings. Charles Kelley created Radix, a personal growth practice, also based on Reich's work. Lowen has published exercises for one or two people The Way To Vibrant Health: A Manual Of Bioenergetic Exercises which may be used to become familiar with the kind of body work Reich pioneered. Reich believed that some form or other of character armoring was common among many people, not just the mentally ill: at least some of what he presents in "Character Analysis" may be useful for anyone.
on 30 August 1998
This important work is sometimes heralded as a landmark in psychoanalytic literature, as Reich changed aspects of analytic technique, focusing on character structure and not just the contents of free association, dreams, memories, etc. But any analyst or psychologist familiar with this work will usually say, but he went mad in the middle, and the last third of the book is nonsense. In fact, the last third--when he focuses on new forms of body-based treatment and theories regarding bioenergy, is even more brilliant. Take a gander at this section and you may recognize a mind way ahead of his times; Reich precedes and surpasses modern day notions of biological energy medicine, body-based psychotherapy, and emotional expression in healing. While his writing is usually uneven, here it is quite sharp, clear, and consistent throughout. We still have a lot to learn from Reich.
on 30 October 2014
This was a slow read for me, but well worth it:
1) incredibly rich vocabulary had me reaching for the dictionary frequently due to the translation from German to English being precise and accurate.
2) reading people has always been a struggle for me, so having various "pictures" of different types of characters was very useful as a learning tool - and I find I can interpret people's behaviour/intentions better since completing the book, despite not always agreeing with the author's interpretations.
3) I don't agree with everything/most of the contents, but it is one perspective - in fact towards the end I nearly gave up, as it seemed that the author had "gone off" on a frolick - hence why he was locked up - but the book requires patience, understanding, respect and tolerance for alternative points of view. It is subject to interpretation.
Social armour, the basis of the work, is a fairly understandable concept. People construct their body in relation to the social world they inhabit. The muscles form according to the blows and support that they receive, leading to blockages and flows. These were the building blocks for understanding Klaus Theweleit's work when he looked at the formation of German masculinities before and just after World War Two. Hard men formed in relation to, and then molded themselves within, before shaping the environment of their own children,often without any reflection on the processes they were operating within.
Reich is a sex reductionist, and this is a problem, seeing the orgasm as the release of the final blockage. However in retrospect this appears a little naive. Good orgiastic sex will release the internal chemistry and create life balance. No, it does help to validate the other, to release someone from being imprisoned and caught within the loneliness of individualism, but Reich must have realised through talking to Stekel that sex was not the final full stop. It is only part of living, one component amongst many, but not the whole point. He appears to have swallowed the evolutionary concept that we are here to procreate and that is all.
However the foundation of his ideas, those which look at flows and blockages is a crucial component for understanding the body and its processes, particularly in osteopathy and other body practices where the streams of life become blocked and illness forms as a result.
Visualising psychotherapy and talking as not being enough, he began to reflect on how the body processes stores memories, then he reflected on how these can be released. This books is important for understanding the body as he was one of the first to move away from the citadel of the mind to attach the body to the other functions of the brain. In this he was revolutionary and something that CBT for example has failed to reflect upon.
on 12 November 2005
Anyone with a serious interest in psychoanalysis should read this. But it cannot be understood through intellect alone; these characters have to be lived, experienced. Someone who is trying to understand this intellectually will fail, although if he is sensitive to Reich's ideas will gain a great deal of insight into human psychology. Will become a seminal text in the near future.
on 9 April 2013
For 30 years and more I've been a critical admirer of Sigmund Freud's writings, especially what I see as their core, his key concept, set out in his writings 'On Sexuality' (Volume 7 of the Penguin Freud Library). I'm also massively persuaded by the insights of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Vladimir Lenin. Until recently I knew only the name 'Wilhelm Reich'. I now realise the monumental importance of his insights, combing and advancing the thinking of the others. 'Character Analysis' is one of the keys to understanding WR.....Buy it!....Read it!
on 31 October 2013
What a book! What a masterpiece! Wilhelm Reich gives a masterpiece ranging from classical psychoanalysis, to Character Analysis and finally to Orgone Biophysics that even now more than 60 years from its first publication is still way ahead from current conventional psychoanalysis and psychiaty.
on 4 March 2016
The man was a genius. He was rewarded with derision.