Interview“The new destinies of the body” (3/5). By analyzing the life and thought of Wilhelm Reich, a controversial disciple of Freud, the British essayist Olivia Laing demonstrates, in an interview with “The World”, that the history of the liberation of bodies is neither linear nor led by perfect heroes.
Growing up in a gay family in England in the 1980s, when British law still prohibited “Promotion of homosexuality”, Olivia Laing went to her first Pride Walk at age 9. “It seemed obvious to me that it is with bodies in the street that we change the world”, she writes in Everybody, A Book About Freedom (Picador, not translated).
Thirty-five years later, in the United States, Chechnya, Hungary or Poland, “The right to love, to migrate, to manifest, to reproduce or to refuse to do so was becoming almost as fiercely contested as it was at the time of [Wilhelm] Reich “.
Ungrateful posterity has especially retained from Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), renegade disciple of Freud, the “new age” version of his ideas on sexuality and the “orgone accumulator”, a kind of orgasm box that fascinated the counter-culture of the 1950s. But he was also a sexual liberator, who criticized the repressive morality of his time, monogamous marriage, and who saw sexual balance as the guarantor of mental and physical health.
Author of a novel and several highly regarded non-fiction works, Olivia Laing weaves around the life of Reich a network of ideas, experiences, reflections on bodies, sex, illness, imprisonment , worn by other characters – essayists Susan Sontag and Andrea Dworkin, Malcolm X, writer Christopher Isherwood or poet Kathy Acker. Through them, Laing demonstrates that the story of the liberation of bodies is neither linear nor led by perfect heroes: it moves forward and backward, “Like a two-beat dance”.
You open your book by explaining the context in which you started it. How did Black Lives Matter and the refugee crisis lead you to work on the specific issue of bodies?
I actually started writing during the refugee crisis, at the time of the rise of the far right in Europe, of Brexit and just before Donald Trump came to power.
I wanted to know if the great liberation movements of the XXe century, namely civil rights, feminism, sexual liberation and the liberation of homosexuals, had achieved their ends, or if it was a kind of perpetual two-beat dance, liberation against repression, which always goes one step further. forward and a step back, and where you always lose a little and then gain a little. So I tried to answer these questions through a journey through ideas about bodies, bodily violence and bodily power.
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