What are Christopher Turner’s and Henry Allen’s Credentials?
The title of Christopher Turner’s book, Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America, is sensationalistic and clearly signals that this is not a serious attempt to understand Reich and his work. It is disappointing that the very publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who kept numerous works by Reich in print, should publish and market such a book.
Mr. Turner's credentials include writing for several London publications such as The Guardian and the London Review of Books, and serving as an editor and writer at Cabinet, an art and culture magazine. There is little other publically available information about Christopher Turner besides the contents of his articles in these publications.
The dust cover of Christopher Turner’s book indicates that “this is his first book.” In the book as well as articles published elsewhere, Turner describes that he first learned of Reich when, as an undergraduate anthropology student, he went to study the Summerhill School. While there he heard that they had an orgone accumulator and asked about it. He then apparently began to read the published correspondence between A.S. Neill, the founder of the school, and Neill’s good friend Wilhelm Reich. This contact with Summerhill School some 20 years after A. S. Neill’s death and Turner’s subsequent reading, as well as some interviews with people who claimed to have been influenced by Reich, are the sole credentials for Mr. Turner taking on such a complex and nuanced subject as Wilhelm Reich and his work. He is not a physician and does not appear to have even a general medical background, let alone any background in psychiatry or science.
Mr. Turner clearly put a great deal of work into the book with its numerous references in each chapter -- mostly excerpts from previously published material by and about Reich. One might be excited by a new young author (the copyright page indicates he was born in 1972) taking on the subject of Reich, his life and work in an attempt to make it more accessible to a contemporary audience. But, alas, Turner clearly used the material, quoting Reich and others out of context, to support a preconceived view. With his smutty, salacious, sex-negative attitude he gives us nothing new, while repeating many timeworn attacks on Reich’s character along with distortions and misrepresentations of the man and his work.
A perusal of a variety of articles written by Mr. Turner reveals the uniform attitude of a slick, cunning, irreverent, iconoclast toward many of his subjects. For example, in a London Review of Books review of a biography about Freud biographer Ernest Jones, Turner -- having already put Jones in a bad light -- now apparently simply contrasts Freud’s and Jones’ character, “Whereas Freud hated confrontations (so much so that once during an argument with Jung he peed in his trousers), Jones needed little encouragement to jump into the fray.” What is the point of that statement other than to take a gratuitous shot at Freud to put him in a bad light as well?
This tabloid journalistic style of appealing to the reader’s basest motivations -- all cleverly and glibly done -- is a consistent pattern in Turner’s writing both in his articles as well as his book. Taking the time to research and write a single article with such an attitude is one thing but we must ask, “What is it that captured Mr. Tuner’s interest to such an extent that it caused him to spend so much time and energy writing a 532 page book attempting to tear down and discredit the person and work of Wilhelm Reich, dead more than 50 years?”
Given such an approach to Reich and orgonomy, what credentials would one hope for in someone to review such a book? At a minimum it should be someone with practical rather than just book knowledge about the subject; someone also with the ability to think critically rather than blindly following, as Mr. Turner does, the establishment views of medicine, psychiatry and science.
So now we must wonder why the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) chose freelance writer Henry Allen to review Mr. Turner’s book. At the end of the piece they list his credentials as: “Mr. Allen, a former writer and editor for the Washington Post, won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2000.”
A closer look at Henry Allen’s credentials shows that his Pulitzer Prize in 2000 while at the Washington Post was "for his fresh and authoritative writing on photography.” (italics added) His position at the Washington Post until he left in 2009 was as Style Editor and writer. What about the rest of his credentials? The Pulitzer Prize biography in 2000 says that he also won the American Society of Newspaper Editors prize for distinguished commentary; that he was born in New Jersey in 1941 and is a graduate of Hamilton College, where he studied English and art, winning the American Academy of Poets prize while there. He covered the White House and Capitol Hill for the New York News, and joined the Washington Post's Style section in 1970 where he was staff writer and eventually became Style Editor and “culture critic” until he left in 2009.
His writing credentials also include authorship of a novel, Fool's Mercy (1982), a collection of essays, Going Too Far Enough (1994), a poetry paperback booklet, The Museum of Lost Air (1997), and a hardcover version of his Washington Post series, What It Felt Like: Living in the American Century (2000).
Mr. Allen’s own website lists several solo shows of his artwork from 2008 to 2009 and states he is an: “Artist…Marine veteran of Vietnam. Backpacked to India, the whole '60s show. Journalist, poet, novelist. Critic in New York Review of Books, New Yorker… Currently playing with idea that contrary to modernist dogma, essence resides not in simplicity but complexity.”
Mr. Allen certainly has credentials as a writer, but how do these and any others qualify him to review a slanted “biography” of Reich?
Rather than critically assess the book, its contents or even its style -- presumably a specialty of his -- Mr. Allen takes the entire “review” as an opportunity to write a diatribe against Reich. Mr. Allen attacks Reich’s character with statements such as, “Reich's appeal was emotional, not rational—the appeal of a born loser who never stopped believing that he was a winner. As such he was a perfect complement to American intellectuals—born winners who never stop thinking they're losers.” He attacks rather than addressing either Turner’s book or the substance of Reich’s work.
The title of his review, “Thinking Inside the Box,” is a clever attempt to play on the term “orgone box” while smirking at Reich. But it seems likely that neither he nor the WSJ is aware of the terrible irony of this title. Mr. Allen shows no significant knowledge of psychiatry, medicine or science and no ability to critically “think outside the box” about anything new in these fields, as he parrots years’ worth of old, distorted, hate-filled, establishment views of Reich. It is also shocking that someone who considers himself a journalist would so glibly pass over the burning of Reich’s books under U.S. government supervision with only one line, “The FDA did him one favor. It turned him into a martyr by smashing up his orgone accumulators and burning his books.”
Given the above, we must wonder why? Why did the WSJ decide to hire Henry Allen to write a “review” of Christopher Turner’s book and why did they decide to feature it prominently on the front page of their review section.