Sunday, June 01, 2008

B.W.'s Book Report: Listen, Little Man!

OK, when both Jomama and Sunni M highly recommend something, it's worth a look. The glimpses they (and the link that quotes a big portion) gave into Wilhelm Reich's book Listen, Little Man! were enticing enough that I used overnight shipping to buy (if the computer is to be believed) the last copy had in stock the other day.

Having now digested the full 128-page tome, I found Herr Reich to be a little carried away with his own personal greatness, and the persecutions he suffered along with it. But in between examples of how little people failed to recognize his genius and chose a lowlier road than the one they'd find if they'd only trust his insights, Reich has some extremely important things to say about the greatness within each soul that could be tapped if we only dare reach for it.

Written in 1946 — or perhaps written over three years beginning in 1943 — the book is described on the back cover as "a great physician's quiet talk to each of us, the average human being, the Little Man." Heck with this "quiet talk" nonsense; Reich slaps the reader upside the head with a 2 by 4, grabs him by the lapels and gives a good shake.

Reading between the lines, little men and women have taken their toll on the author, who seems to have developed a theory of healthy living that involves a more free application of sexuality than was common in the early 20th century. And he really lays it on thick over some now-forgotten personal slights and abuses. "I understand your cancer, and your little Health Commissioner forbids me to experiment on mice. I teach your physicians to understand your case, and your Medical Association denounces me to the police." From time to time it becomes, "Jeez, Will, give it a rest and get to the point."

But his point — whoa.

Take his medical theories with however many grains of salt you like — even embrace them if they make sense to you — but pay careful attention to how Reich describes the person living a healthy life. At points in this book I was ready to set it down and say, "Enough!" as he seems to come from the school of education that rips the student to metaphorical shreds before rebuilding him in the teacher's image. I felt like I was being exposed to a drill sergeant ("Listen up, maggots!") as Reich describes how little men through the ages have made the wrong choices and led nations and societies into the gutter. But way back in the distance is a sense that Reich's harshness stems from the frustration of someone who knows how great this life could be if "little men" would simply take responsibility for their personal fates and live free in every sense of the world.

And from time to time, especially at the end, he brings that sense from the background onto the front burner. See what he sees as a healthy lifestyle:
You'll have a good, secure life when being alive means more to you than security, love more than money, your freedom more than public or partisan opinion; when the mood of Beethoven's or Bach's music becomes the mood of your whole life — you have it in you, little man, somewhere deep down in a corner of your being; when your thinking is in harmony, and no longer in conflict, with your feelings; when you've learned to recognize two things in their season: your gifts and the onset of old age; when you let yourself be guided by the thoughts of great sages and no longer by the crimes of great warriors: when you cease to set more store by a marriage certificate than by love between man and woman; when you learn to recognize your errors promptly and not too late, as you do today; when you pay the men and women who teach your children better than politicians; when truths inspire you and empty formulas repel you ...
There's much to be found in Listen, Little Man! about the individual who discovers that his worth is defined within himself, not by adherence to a state or by allegiance and blind obedience to "bigger men." "You yourself are your own liberator," he says early on as he's getting warmed up. Reich loses me a bit as he bemoans his travails against some of the littler little men, even sounds a bit whiney in spots, but his tract redeems itself with his message of individual worth and the joy that could come to every man and woman, if we just weren't so afraid of it.

This one's going to stick with me for a while. Let me be the third this week to say it: Highly recommended!

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home