The figure of Dr. jur. Daniel Paul Schreber (1842-1911), as witnessed by his autobiographical writings, remains as enigmatic and unresolved now as on the publication of his Memoirs in 1903. Broadly speaking, the story is one of a man who perceives his forsakenness as the consequence of a violent rent from the covenant of his previously held beliefs in law and the natural sciences. For the former Presiding Judge Schreber redeeming himself required his belief in, if not a new covenant coextensive with, the pivotal role his transformation into a woman would have upon the reconstitution of the Order of the World. This, we are told by Schreber in a highly lucid and well crafted prose, was to be achieved by going back to an imaginary time of harmonious dualism between Heaven and Earth - to a resolution in the rent between the representations of a symbolic father and the needs of a son for that paternal image - he would re-form himself, and indeed, humankind and God, as we will see later.
1. Introduction: Schreber on Schreber
The following analysis of this now-famous case aims to provide a commentary on Schreber's case by attending to his own literalised language, and an archaeological uncovering of the not commonly synonymous themes of humiliation and covenant, which together may have some bearing within each of the chosen works under scrutiny, though for quite different reasons. For this purpose, we will use the New York Review of Books' translation edited by MacAlpine and Hunter (1955/2000) of Schreber's Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. It should also be noted that it is Sigmund Freud who sets out the stall for psycho-analysis as the original point of reference for dynamic psychiatry on the subject of paranoia as having its cause within repressed erotic fantasy, and the basis, therefore, for all subsequent contemporary psychoanalytic commentaries on the eponymously named ‘Schreber Case’. And so it is, thus, that for as much as one should avail themselves of the contemporary pathographies on paranoia, most notably, as those provided by the likes of Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, Heinz Kuhut, Elias Cannetti, or Piera Aulagnier, it surely remains the priority of any researcher into the case history of Daniel Paul Schreber to establish a critical dialogue with Freud’s 1911 paper Psychoanalytic Remarks on 'An Autobiographically Described Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)'. For this purpose, we will also use the translation edited by Webber and Phillips (1911/2002) of 'The Schreber Case.'
1.1. Humiliation and Breakdown
Dr. jur. Daniel Paul Schreber was born in 1842, second son to the famous physician and pedagogue Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber (1808-1861). The young and undeniably talented Paul Schreber lost his father to depression at the tender age of nine, which, subsequently led to a decade of prolonged silences and isolation prior to his death when Daniel Paul would have been aged nineteen. Moritz Schreber was aged just fifty-three years at the time of his passing. Daniel Paul’s elder brother, Daniel Gustav Schreber, was also lost to a premature demise – but in his case by the preferred method of ‘gentlefolk’, that is, alone in his study with a tumbler of whiskey and a single bullet from a revolver. Daniel Paul himself was to live to the age of sixty-nine years; seemingly surviving his father by some considerable margin, however, Daniel Paul’s story demands closer scrutiny of the period between the autumn of 1884 and July 1902. It is here, in that said period - as Freud himself found and coached others to follow by ‘one reading at least’ of the Memoirs - that the name of Schreber becomes irresistible in the attentions and folklore of both the psychiatric and psychoanalytic communities due to the intricacy of the prosaic web spun within this autobiographical dispatch from the far side of human nature.
The first of the ‘two nervous illnesses’ from which Daniel Paul suffered commenced in his forty-second year whilst he worked as Chairman of the County Court of Chemnitz. At this time, between early December 1884 to the beginning of June 1885, he was treated privately by the reputed neurologist and nerve specialist Prof. Dr. Flechsig in his capacity as Director of the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Leipzig, where, he was, according to himself and the professional satisfaction of Prof. Flechsig, ‘fully cured’ of what was recorded as a case of ‘severe hypochondria’. Daniel Paul attributed this first nervous illness to the ‘mental overstrain’ occasioned, in his words, ‘by my candidature for parliament’. This first period of illness, we are reliably informed, ‘passed [after a prolonged convalescence] without any occurrences bordering on the supernatural’. Prof. Flechsig, it is certainly of worth to note, tells Daniel Paul at the cessation of the first symptoms of illness that he believes that the Judge may have been suffering from sodium bromide poisoning – a claim which Daniel Paul refutes as merely ‘white lies’. The next eight years is spent quite happily with his wife Sabine: ‘rich also in outward honours and marred only from time to time by the repeated disappointment of our hope of being blessed with children’.
In these fruitless years his professed desire to be blessed with children would appear to have been humiliated by miscarriages and still births. Then, in June 1893, Daniel Paul is informed by Herr Dr. Schrig, Minister of Justice, of his appointment to the office of Senatspräsident at the Superior Court in Dresden. However, even in the light of this good news all was not well in the Schreber household, for at the same time several dreams appear to have him made question two fantastical possibilities: one, that he dreamt that his first illness kept returning, and two, that a contact of connectedness between himself and ‘divine nerves’ had somehow taken place. These dreamy thoughts finally culminating in so foreign an idea to his nature that he considered it a ‘highly peculiar’ speculation, that is, ‘that it must be rather pleasant to be a woman succumbing to intercourse.'
The second of the nervous illnesses, Daniel Paul wrote confidently in 1903, was said to have ‘begun in October 1893 and still continues’. Here, some eight years after the first episode, Daniel Paul again enlists the help of the professionally trusted Prof. Flechsig from the middle of November 1893 till June 1894.
“I had at the time no reason to be other than most grateful to Professor Flechsig; I gave this special expression by a subsequent visit and in my opinion an adequate honorarium. My wife felt even more sincere gratitude and worshipped Professor Flechsig as the man who had restored her husband to her; for this reason she kept his picture on her desk for many years.”
On the second occasion of illness the mental overstrain - to which Daniel Paul had alluded as the initial cause - had occurred just over a month in to his appointment to the Superior Court in Dresden on the 1st October 1893. In addition, it is here that he admits to once again relying upon a combination of self-medication comprising of sodium bromide and chloral hydrate as an aid to achieve restful sleep.
Once again, therefore, akin to the symptoms of the first illness, Daniel Paul is experiencing badly altered patterns of sleep if not insomnia and subsequent exhaustion. Moreover, by his own meticulous reckoning, that is, somewhere between the 9th and 11th November 1893, we are told that having consulted Prof. Flechsig on the matter of insomnia Daniel Paul begins to experience the first symptoms of an altogether more ‘menacing character’. An illness had returned, and the night once again accompanied the commencement of these more menacing symptoms: the attack of anxiety was so acute that Daniel Paul’s wife was called upon to stop her husband from preparing a towel or suchlike for the purposes of a kind of suicide attempt.
Early the next morning Daniel Paul was sent immediately, with Prof. Flechsig travelling alongside him, to the asylum. Upon his arrival a bath is drawn for him and then he was put to bed – and there he stayed for the next four to five days until: “I was pulled out of bed by two attendants in the middle of the night and taken to a cell fitted out for dements (maniacs) to sleep in … The way led through the billiard room; there, because I had no idea what one intended to do with me and therefore I had to resist, a fight started between myself clad only in a shirt, and the two attendants.”
During this first sleepless and terrifying night in the padded cell, Daniel Paul resigns himself to the fact that a life without sleep – a sleep that could no longer be procured by ‘all means of medical art’ - is a life not worth living. Again, unsuccessfully, he attempts to take his own life.
From that following morning the former Judge was regularly medicated with chloral hydrate every night, and the following weeks saw some slight improvement in the demeanour and sleep patterns of the patient. He writes of the lead up to that first Christmas in the asylum that his wife Sabine visited him regularly, and that part of every day was spent ‘at my mothers house’ – rather than in the company of his mother, or even, the bosom of his family, literally. However, this close proximity to feminine and maternal attentions does little to appease the hyper-excitability of his nerves or increase his diminished will to live. He is mentally drained and physically exhausted: his imagination is only capable of designing a future with a fatal outcome: he shakes his head in disbelief even when his much cherished wife tries again and again to raise his lowly spirits. Effectively, by his own punishing standards for excellence, he believes that he has been fatally humiliated before those whom he loves, and, before his peers. Seemingly, the last judgement left to one such as he is death.
The days in the asylum became weeks, and yet, Daniel Paul’s ever-caring wife Sabine continued to spend a few hours every day in the company of her husband, they took lunch in the asylum, and they went on carriage drives together. Nevertheless, the strain on Frau Schreber must have been remarkable. Consequently, she was in urgent need of a well deserved short vacation herself, and so a four day trip to her own father in Berlin was arranged for mid February 1894. Daniel Paul was to see her only once more after this trip.
“My condition deteriorated so much in these four days that after her return I saw her only once more, and then declared that I could not wish my wife to see me again in the low state into which I had fallen … such important changes had meanwhile occurred in my environment and in myself that I no longer considered her a living being, but only thought I saw in her a human form produced by miracle in the manner of the “fleetingly-improvised-men”. Decisive for my mental collapse was one particular night; during that night I had a quite unusual number of pollutions (perhaps half a dozen)”.
1.2. Continuance, the 'Covenant', Soul Murder, and the Red Thread
From the moment of his wife’s conceived death onwards, Daniel Paul is consumed by a belief in a communication between himself and ‘supernatural powers’ which appears to breathe new life into him. One can only guess that the very reason behind his motives to publish the astonishing Memoirs in a certain sense must be inextricably tied, therefore, to the level of psychic investment in Daniel Paul’s reconstructed universe; the new covenant between himself and death as an assurance for continuance. Particularly, of a ‘nerve-contact’ between himself and Prof. Flechsig in such a way that a disembodied Flechsig soul ‘spoke to my nerves without being present in person’. Moreover, that the impression was left with Daniel Paul that this disembodied Flechsig ‘had secret designs against me’. Immediately, the reader of the Memoirs has been asked to suspend their own belief in what is and what is not possible in the Order of the World so as not to be confused with the clear veridical discrepancy of a Flechsig soul and the bodily Prof. Flechsig himself.
Daniel Paul’s delusional notion of nerve-contact quickly accelerated, powered by his own imaginative demand for some answer to account for a melting sense of reality itself. In other words, Daniel Paul appears to need to solve the riddle of the diminution of acuity [toward an external order of things] which appeared to fall away before his eyes. Daniel Paul names the natural world of his memory the Order of the World, and, thus, to the extent that he is led to a conclusion based on the supernatural and the existence of an essential ‘nerve-language’ to bind it, he must conclude, that nerves and nerve-language are not of this worldly order. In addition, although he makes clear that the healthy human being is not aware of this nerve-language, in his own case, however, he conjectures that his own nerves have been set in motion from without. Moreover, he continues using his considerable - albeit delusory - powers of hypothetico-deduction, the source of this influence could only therefore be emanating from Flechsig’s soul or from God.
“The only possible explanation I can think of is that Professor Flechsig in some way knew how to put divine rays to his own use; later, apart from Professor Flechsig’s nerves, direct divine rays also entered into contact with my nerves. This influence has in the course of years assumed forms more and more contrary to the Order of the World and to man’s natural right to be master of his own nerves, and I might say become increasingly grotesque”.
Direct contact with divine rays, then, via Daniel Paul’s allusion to nerve-language, can be said to point up to a newly acquired supernatural status for himself – he has become omnipresent. It is here, therefore, founded in a false and delusional construct of omnipresence that a new covenant is born that, contrary to the nature of the Order of the World, allows Daniel Paul to assure his continuance by schematising nerve-language (as destructive inner voices) alongside divine rays (as creative and replenishing) to provide himself with the beginnings of a sense of continuity for and of existence. That is to say, of a re-formed ‘purpose’ and re-formed ‘meaning’ as coextensive for the continuance of both internal and external existence. The new covenant had been spelt out unequivocally to Daniel Paul as early as March or April of 1894: If he was ‘unmanned’, that is, welcomed the transformation of ‘unmanning’ into a woman brought about by the divine rays upon his ‘nerves of voluptuousness’, then, and only then, could order be restored between the Order of the World and God’s realms.
In addition, the binding for this re-formed meaning must seemingly hinge upon Daniel Paul’s continuance in the light of the amassed forces working toward his experiences of psychical/spiritual disintegration and physical dehiscence. He garners a term for these supernatural attacks, borrowed from romantic literature, and the chosen term for this most heinous of crimes to be perpetrated against a human being is ‘soul murder’. This concept of soul murder Daniel Paul defines in a lengthy but necessary passage as the idea
“widespread in the folklore and poetry of all peoples that it is somehow possible to take possession of another person’s soul in order to prolong one’s life at another soul’s expense, or to secure some other advantages which outlast death. One has only to think of Goethe’s Faust, Lord Byron’s Manfred, Weber’s Frieshütz, etc. Commonly, however, the main role is supposed to be played by the Devil, who entices a human being into selling his soul to him by means of a drop of blood, etc. for some worldly advantages; yet it is difficult to see what the Devil was to do with a soul so caught, if one is not to assume that torturing a soul as an end in itself gave the Devil special pleasure”.
The voices which invaded the mind of Daniel Paul continually stressed to him that, ‘ever since the beginning of my contact with God (mid-March 1894)’, to his factuality, the crisis that had broken upon God’s realms was caused by ‘somebody having committed soul murder’. For Daniel Paul this dire situation was manifest as a twofold problematic: first, that there had indeed come to be a rent in the covenant between the Order of the World and the order of God’s realms; second, that this situation was instigated by a jealous battle between the already departed souls of earlier generations of the Flechsig and Schreber families. Both families he construes as belonging, according to the voices at least, to ‘the highest nobility of heaven’. Here, God is believed by Schreber to instinctively understand that an increase in the ‘nervousness [as mental illness] among men could endanger His realms. Thus, Daniel Paul comes to call asylums for the mentally ill ‘God’s Nerve-Institutes’, and, who better to direct the operations in such an institute but either a Flechsig or a Schreber family member, especially, given the status both have been accorded by the anterior of God’s realm. In this generation, however, we know that Daniel Paul is the patient, whilst Prof. Flechsig’s is the nerve specialist. Flechsig’s soul must be the ultimate wielder of nerve contact in this generation, and by definition, in this rigid schema at least, he must be capable of soul murder, and, most importantly, the crisis in God’s posterior realms must have found a causal relation within the intentionality of the abuse of power over the divine rays.
Daniel Paul seizes upon the import that this thought delivers, and expands his compass to entertain why it was that God’s omniscience had been effectively unable to act against this abuse of power, or, in other words, why it was that God was not omniscient over the living human being. The reason as far as Daniel Paul was convinced, was unquestionably clear and, he writes, ‘ran like a red thread’ through his entire life; this thread belying a profound misunderstanding of the covenant between himself and The Father, namely, that, God could only maintain a very limited contact with living beings according to the Order of the World.
“It is based upon the fact that, within the Order of the World, God did not really understand the living human being and had no need to understand him, because, according the Order of the World, He dealt only with corpses”.
The red thread that ran through Daniel Paul’s whole life had now acquired a special meaning – ‘The Father’ was far from perfect, in fact, ‘He’ was endangered by the nervous illnesses of human beings, and in particular, endangered by the nervousness exhibited by one as ‘highly intellectual’ as Daniel Paul himself. Here begins the ‘policy of vacillation’, construed as a plot hatched against him, where, attempts to cure his nervous illness alternated with efforts to annihilate his ‘forsaken’ body. By the handing over of his soul to Flechsig there could be no recourse but to surmise that in the Order of the World it was Flechsig, not God, that held the ultimate control over nerves, nerve-language (hence the voices Daniel Paul heard in his mind), divine rays (the creative opposite to nerve-language), and human souls themselves (in the realm of the ‘forecourts of heaven’).
In conclusion of this first section, Schreber on Schreber, one should add that the complexity of the Memoirs continues to split and refract objects into progressively more elemental forms, through the addition of qualities of detail and material such that any detailed analysis of this work would require at least the same amount of space afforded to the original source. However, that being said, one ‘quality’ prevails throughout this exhaustive work on a mental illness. That one quality, or more correctly speaking, that major theme, which seemingly encapsulates the pain and suffering of Daniel Paul Schreber’s trials remains, and will continue to remain in the remembrance of any such reading of this astonishing dispatch from the far side of nervous illness, presents itself as, simply, forsakenness. Dr. Judge. Daniel Paul Schreber was, it can be said with some degree of certainty, forsaken through and by numerous humiliations that he found to have been visited upon him, and, forsaken within the various covenants he had manfully entered into in good faith.
2. Freud on Schreber
2.1. Into The Public Domain
"We cannot accept patients suffering from this disorder" wrote the imperious sounding father of psycho-analysis, Sigmund Freud, in 1911, "or at least cannot retain them for long, given that we set the prospect of therapeutic success as a precondition for our treatment." Even so, this fact did not detract Freud from writing that which arguably has become the de facto primary source in psychoanalytic thought concerning the case of Daniel Paul Schreber and the basis from which all other psychoanalytical pathographies of Schreber are but nested revisions or reiterations.
2.2. Case History and Motivational Factors
“In paranoia, in particular, the sexual aetiology is in no sense obvious, with social humiliations and setbacks tending to be to the fore in its causation, especially in the case of men”.
Sigmund Freud, ‘On the Paranoid Mechanism’
Freud begins his own case history without prior knowledge of the subject’s childhood, chronology, or the circumstances of Daniel Paul’s familial background prior to illness. Instead, however, Freud endeavours towards a beautifully crafted hybrid somewhere between literature and pathography in his approach to the original Memoirs from the Leipzig publisher Oswald Mutze. In so doing, Freud himself wittingly enters the public domain. And as such treads upon the same disputes himself as Daniel Paul Schreber, that is, a clearly guarded approach against criticism or potential litigation, when he calls for the surviving Privy Councillor Prof. Flechsig’s grace in the interests of scientific investigation to the extent that ‘will overwhelm any personal sensitivities’ in respect of his good character and the role he assumed in the Memoirs.
That said, Freud is seeking to establish the position of psycho-analysis with regard to the situation of paranoid psychoses without any precedent, and as such it is, therefore, unsurprising that he should stipulate such caveats from the outset of his case history given the unpalatable nature of his central thesis of the constitution of the unconscious, namely, as founded upon repressed sexuality and the incest taboo. However, as MacCabe (2002) restates succinctly in the introductory passage to The Schreber Case ‘Freud never fully demonstrated their necessary articulation’, that is, to make exclusively deductive inferences that adequately traversed over from linguistic representation to anatomical reality. In other words, part of the remit for the project of psycho-analysis was not to make claim for the existence of the human unconscious, but, rather, to appeal to our common sensibilities through the fullest possible explanation of each stage of his thought throughout his career as to why his clinical observations had led him to such a radical aetiology for the unconscious. Here, then, we can reach some modest understanding as to Freud’s motivation behind choosing to engage with a subject who clearly did not hold out ‘the prospect of therapeutic success’: first, as a defence against the possibility of professional humiliation by accusations of irrationalism, and, second, to secure the much needed professional covenant between his few followers and the credibility afforded by the wider scientific respectability of institutional psychiatry.
To expand upon this thought further we are required to first take a brief look into the historical landscape occupied by Freud’s writings at the period between the publishing of Schreber’s (1903) Memoirs and his own published remarks on the case of 1911. The biographer and close friend of Freud, the English psychopathologist Prof. Dr. Ernest Jones (1879-1958), says of the period 1906-1909 - the so-named ‘beginning of international recognition’ - that, Freud’s writings up till that point ‘had either been ignored’ or else ‘noted with contemptuous comment’. Moreover, that where the reviews had been more respectful even then they did not lead to ‘any definite acceptance of his ideas’. In fact, the first specifically written English paper on psycho-analysis, by the neurologist Prof. James Putnam at Harvard University, published, in the Journal for Abnormal Psychology (February 1906), in his conclusions ‘was at that time on the whole adverse’.
However, in the autumn of 1904 Freud had heard from the eminent Professor of Psychiatry, Prof. Dr. Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939), and his chief assistant, at the much reputed Burghölzli Mental Hospital in Zurich. The name of this yet unknown but brilliant young assistant psychiatrist to Prof. Bleuler was Dr. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). ‘Jung’, Jones writes, ‘had read the Interpretation of Dreams soon after its publication’ in 1900, and, indeed, had referred to it in a book of his own as early as 1902. Jung was more than just receptive to the ideas proposed, and, therefore, someone that Freud could do business with so to speak.
C. G. Jung brought with him what was in many ways exactly that which Freud most urgently craved for at this time; namely, the credibility afforded by his wider scientific respectability of institutional psychiatry. In addition, Jung was a gentile with a protestant background, unlike any of the other followers of Freud from the original ‘Psychological Wednesday Society’ who, by serendipity alone, were all without exception Jews. There can be little doubt therefore, that part of Freud’s insecurity stemmed from the burgeoning growth of anti-Semitism throughout Western Europe, and in particular, the popular rise of the political far right in the Austro-Germanic Vienna that Freud had called home.
In returning to the motivating factors behind the admittance of the Schreber Case into the early corpus of psychoanalysis then, one can modestly say the following with some modicum of assurance: firstly, that fear of the loss of credibility, and thus professional humiliation, stood as very real possibilities to the ambitious young Freud; secondly, that the introduction of such eminent names as Bleuler and Jung, and their specialisation with the nosological category of mental illness known as the psychoses, freighted with it the much sought after means in order to counter Freud’s fear of the loss of credibility. In other words, therefore, as Jones and many other commentators in the field have said repeatedly, Freud’s greatest personal desire was to be recognised and accorded the accoutrements that this status brought with it.
Schreber’s case of paranoia was, although clearly outside of the remit defined for psycho-analysis as an explanation and technique to better describe the neuroses, a necessary and pragmatic moment in realising Freud’s ambitious quest for recognition, and, both personal and familial security.
2.3. Attempts at Interpretation
"I am aware that a good dose of tact and restraint is required in psychoanalytic work", Freud begins, "when we leave the typical cases of interpretation behind and that the listener or reader will go only as far as the familiarity he has achieved with analytical techniques allows." In praise of this uncertainty, so to speak, the reader might applaud Freud’s stated wariness concerning the matter of allowing oneself the indulgence of over-ingenious interpretation at the expense of reduced certainty. This point is well made as the publication of the Memoirs had only been made possible by the editorial excise of the most sexually explicit, indiscreet, and libellous material from the work, thus denying the analyst of access to the most pertinent data from the case. Freud encapsulates this notion of the compromise that takes place prior to the proffering of an interpretation when he continues, "It is only natural that one analyst will err in his work on the side of caution, another on the side of audacity." But which of these options are we to hold as Freud’s own stance in relation to this work, if not either or both in coincidence? For on the one hand we are guided by Freud’s mastery of prosefulness and style that has many times been compared to that of his hero, Goethe’s, own style; whilst on the other, we know that a determinism inheres through psycho-analysis that inexorably finds its source expressed through those repressed erotic fantasies deemed too potent for human consciousness to express openly.
Clearly, then, the demarcation of the ‘correct’ boundaries is no matter for immature or hasty reflection – rather, this boundary is profoundly central to the division of those practitioners in the first instance. Although, it can be said, following Winnicott’s or Aulagnier’s models for the formation of consciousness, that there would appear to be a not inconsiderable amount of emotional damage possible at the level of primary and secondary functioning as the coextensive consequence of not erring toward the side of caution at the moment of interpretation.
Perhaps Freud may have had as his primary concern the written memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber, but what, one might ask, effect might his attempts at interpretation have had upon the developmental environment of those family members surviving their illustrious namesake? In particular, ones thought might settle upon the adopted daughter Sabine Schreber, and one should ask whether it is likely that she, an innocent, could possibly have benefited from the superimposition of a repressed homoerotic fantasy attached to her much loved paternal figure? But as Freud had already said, the work was in the public domain, and was by proxy, therefore, fairly within the acceptable realms of what would otherwise present more ethically challenging questions concerning the nature of interpretation.
In any case, the lessons of the past remain open to question on the matter of interpretation, however, in Freud’s time the successful analyst may have regarded these ethical considerations as, perhaps, secondary in importance to the primary aim of reaching out into the popular consciousness and establishing their work as credible.
Without wishing to labour the point of Freud’s interpretation of Schreber’s illness, mainly as the inferences drawn by psycho-analysis are always determined by some repressed sexual fantasy, in this case, as was said earlier, Freud felt that his interpretation should focus upon the homoerotic fantasies centred on the image of the father. Thus, to Freud’s thought, the relationship with Prof. Flechsig acted as a homoerotic trigger for the representative image of the father imago, and, in the mature delusion filled illness, a subsequent paranoid persecution is said to constellate, again, around and based upon the image of the father whence it is then pointedly extended upward towards a cruel and punishing God (as Father). In his own words, Freud spells out the central role played by Flechsig, thus:
“The origin of all the persecutions, though, is Flechsig, and he remains their instigator throughout the course of the illness”
At first glance, this reading of the Memoirs can appear satisfactory; it follows a train of inference that corresponds closely to Daniel Paul’s own account of his perceived soul murder at the hands of Prof. Flechsig. However, one can also discern what Jung is said to have called the ‘very unsatisfactory’ nature of this interpretation if one but questions the fact that Daniel Paul’s first illness might possibly have been connected to his second. In addition, if this first condition were connected to the second illness, which is definitely not beyond the realms of possibility, then it would appear that Flechsig could not have been a factor at all prior to their first meeting when Daniel Paul was aged forty-two.
2.4. On the Paranoid Mechanism
‘Thus far we have dealt with the father complex’, says Freud, ‘which dominates Schreber’s case, and the central wishful fantasy of the illness’. But, as he continues, so far he has added nothing to the specific matter of the mechanisms that lie behind general paranoia itself. He continues to corroborate his view with those of his newly acquired acquaintance, thus:
“Inclined to mistrust my own experience in this matter, over the last few years I have joined with my friends C. G. Jung in Zurich and S. Ferenczi in Budapest to examine from this point of view a series of cases of paranoid illness under their observation”.
For Freud, then, those case histories examined, taken as they were from a broad cross section of class, race, gender and age, each corresponded to his view that ‘the defence against a homosexual wish was at the core of pathological conflict’. However, he goes on to say that, ‘In paranoia, in particular, the sexual aetiology is in no sense obvious, with social humiliations and setbacks tending to be to the fore in its causation, especially in the case of men’. Therefore, whilst Freud appears consumed with the importance of overlaying his psychoanalytic findings of repressed erotic fantasy taken from his work on the neuroses, and continues to believe in it’s affect upon the individual in the psychoses in the shape of homoerotic fantasy, he believes, or at least appears to also believe, that, social humiliation has a significant part to play. Freud is then led to summarize his thoughts on the link between social factors and homoeroticism thus:
“As our analyses reveal that paranoiacs seek to fend off such sexualization of their investments of social drive, we are forced to suppose that the weak point in their development is to be found in that portion between auto-eroticism, narcissism, and homosexuality, that it is there that their pathological disposition (which may yet be more precisely defined) lies”.
He goes on to attribute this disposition to Kraeplin’s definition for ‘dementia praecox’, and, that which Bleuler had called ‘schizophrenia’. Further still, Freud believes that he can evidence the language representations which account for the mechanism from one single proposition through its inverted variations, namely, ‘I (a man) love him (a man)’. Here Freud is using the considerable powers of inference available to him when he situates this core proposition into four areas of psychic distortion, namely, those of persecution, erotomania, jealousy, and megalomania.
In the first instance, that of persecution, ‘I love him’ is distorted as the inner perception cannot be made conscious and is replaced with a projected perception from without, therefore, as ‘I do not love him – I hate him because he persecutes me’. In the second instance, that of erotomania, ‘I love him’ is distorted as the inner perception cannot be made conscious and is replaced with a projected substitution of the perception from without, therefore, ‘I do not love him – I love her because she loves me’. In the third instance, that of jealousy, ‘I love him’ is distorted as the inner perception cannot be made conscious and is replaced with an introjected substitution of the perception from without, therefore, ‘It is not I who loves him – It is she that loves him’. In the last and fourth instance, that of megalomania, ‘I love him’ is distorted as the inner perception cannot be made conscious and is replaced with a disavowal of perceptions from without, therefore, ‘I do not love at all, not anybody’. Here megalomania is conceived, in the formulations available to him in 1911 one should say, as a sexual overestimation of ones own self.
In summary of the mechanisms at hand, Freud summarises, that, the contradictions of the persecution act upon the verb, the contradictions of the erotomania act upon the object, and, that the contradictions of the jealousy act upon the subject. The fourth contradiction of the megalomania utterly rejects the whole proposition and that the fixation in narcissism (megalomania) points to a backward step from sublimated homosexuality to narcissism that is characteristic of paranoia. Paranoia, to Freud’s thought then, can now be understood as the production of illness which builds up via the formation of delusions, which is, in reality, an attempt at 'cure' via a substituted reconstruction (see displacement) of reality.
Reflections in conclusion
Daniel Paul Schreber’s autobiography appears to give to the world an idea of just how much importance can be attributed to the symbolic content of delusions and the fantasies that can emerge from psychotic human beings, if, that is, they are considered to be imaginatively creative rather than merely reminders of our own mortality. Daniel Paul achieved his longed for release from the public asylum at Sonnenstein in 1902, as the Addenda to the Memoirs testifies. However, tragedy followed Daniel Paul relentlessly; he lost his wife five years later in 1907, and subsequent to this profound loss also lost the fragile peace of sanity that he had built as a reconstructed covenant with reality. He died in incarceration in 1911, coincidentally the same year Freud published his paper Psychoanalytic Remarks on an Autobiographically Described Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)).
As for Freud, his fall and rise has been well charted by such historians as Ernest Jones (1953-1957) and Henri Ellenberger (1970). Nevertheless, on the matter of the Schreber Case some valuable points have hopefully been made and explored in some limited way, they are, that: one, though perhaps over-written as a case history by today’s standards this does not diminish the fact that Freud’s literary mastery is in itself an unquestionable tour de force. This fact, however, should not detract the reader from a critical dialogue with the contents of the text, and, the human figure of Daniel Paul Schreber. Two, that the Schreber Case concerns the paranoid psychoses, where, more usually, psycho-analysis is itself an explanation and technique to describe the neuroses. Three, that, Freud had sought to establish psycho-analysis from a position without precedent and, therefore, required a covenant of affiliation from within the ranks of institutional psychiatry as a safeguard against possible professional humiliation, and, equally, a move toward securing his own international recognition and success. Four, that, Freud was perhaps showing the broader applicability of his psycho-analysis to the psychoses, and, that the case of the famous Judge Schreber who had written his own memoirs concerning his nervous illness was an ideal opportunity to show this broader applicability. Lastly, that by superimposing his own theories onto a famous case in the public domain Freud had certainly to some extent demonstrated the primacy of his project for psycho-analysis over those ethical concerns relating to the consideration afforded to Daniel Paul Schreber or perhaps toward his surviving family members.
Primary source material:
Secondary source material:
- Erin Labbie & Michael Uebel: “We Have Never Been Schreber: Paranoia, Medieval and Modern,” in The Legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the Unwritten History of Theory. Ed. Andrew Cole & D. Vance Smith. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. 127-58.
- Morton Schatzman: Soul Murder: Persecution in the Family (ISBN 0-394-48148-8)
- Eric Santner: My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber's Secret History of Modernity (ISBN 0-691-02627-0)
- Zvi Lothane: In Defense of Schreber: Soul Murder and Psychiatry (ISBN 0-88163-103-5)
- W.G. Niederland: Schreber: Father and Son (1959, Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 28:151-169). He basically came to same conclusion as Morton Schatzman.
- Allison, David B. et al., "Psychosis and Sexual Identity: Toward a Post-Analytic View of the Schreber Case" (ISBN 0-88706-617-8). A collection of essays by theoreticians such as Michel de Certeau, Alphonso Lingis, Jean-François Lyotard, as well as several previously unpublished texts written by Schreber after the publication of the Memoirs.
- Graeme Martin: 'Das Brullwunder: A new content analysis of Daniel Paul Schreber's Memoirs'. A reinterpretation of Schreber's 'Bellowing Miracle', (in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Aug. 2008)