In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that both the post-Freudian psychologist Wilhelm Reich and the Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse acted as forerunners of their own particular brand of libidinal politics. Reich, in a series of books including The Mass Psychology of Fascism, The Sexual Revolution, and The Function of the Orgasm looked to the relationship between sexuality and family dynamics as the root cause of oppressive and anti-democratic politics; many of his writings, emerging in the shadow of the Nazism that had overtaken his native land of Germany, emerged as a reflection, in many ways, of the “Authoritarian Personality” discussed by Adorno and the other thinkers of the Frankfurt School. Marcuse, likewise, had attempted a synthesis of Freud and Marx in his Eros and Civilization and had also, in his own way, had helped pave way for the sexual revolution on the horizon of the 1960s.
Marcuse both drew on Reich’s work and criticized it: in his later years, Reich had progressively shed the scientism of psychology for a mystically-inclined and vitalism understanding of the world based upon what he called “orgone,” a kind of bio-cosmic energy. This orgone, for him, was the source of libidinal energy, drained from the individual by the powers of civilization’s apparatuses social repression. Marcuse refrains from addressing the orgone theory at length – after, inclinations towards the mystical are, according to Adorno, one the distinctive trademarks of the authoritarian personality.
Deleuze and Guattari, by contrast, are a little more sympathetic to Reich’s work than Marcuse, and in fact, they hold the former’s work in higher esteem: “Reich was the first to raise the problem of the relationship between desire and the social field (and went further than Marcuse, who treats the problem lightly).” (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 118) Furthermore, they seem, in some ways, a little sympathetic (through still critical) to the orgone hypothesis:
…would we do better to review Reich’s final attempt, involving a “biogenesis” that not without justification is qualified as a schizoparanoic mode of reasoning? It will be remembered that Reich concluded in favor of an intra-atomic cosmic energy – the orgone – generative of an electrical flux and carrying submicroscopic particles, the bions. This energy is produced differences in potential or intensities distributed on the body considered from the molecular viewpoint, and was associated with a mechanics of fluids in this same body considered from a molar viewpoint… If the details of Reich’s final theory are taken into consideration, we admit that its simultaneously schizophrenic and paranoiac nature is no obstacle where we are concerned – on the contrary. We admit that any comparison of sexuality with cosmic phenomena such a “electrical storms,” “the blue color of the sky and the blue-gray of atmospheric gaze,” the blue of the orgone, “St. Elmo’s fire, and the bluish formations [of] sunspot activity,” fluids and flows, matter and particles, in the end appear to us more adequate than the reduction of sexuality to the pitiful like familialist secret. (Anti-Oedipus, pgs. 291-292)
What are we to make of this? Does Reich’s theory, perhaps in more of an aesthetic or poetic sense, point towards Deleuze and Guattari own conception of desire as a life force rendered fluid and flowing? Culturally significant, Reich’s “orgone therapy” was practiced by many of the artists deployed in Anti-Oedipus as schizoid circulators of flows: Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and other members of the Beat generation. It was thus, in a way, an entity that assisted in this micropolitical exodus from the confines of the Disciplinary Society. Would it be outlandish to view these followers of Reich as acting out the Autonomist thesis that “false information may produce real events“?