Saturday, February 14, 2015

Freud and Schreber: Psychoanalysis and Patriarchy (Homosociality and Homosexuality)


There are two angles from which we could attempt to reach an understanding of this history of a
case of paranoia and to lay bare in it the familiar complexes and motive forces of mental life. We
might start either from the patient’s own delusional utterances or from the exciting causes of hi

The former method must seem enticing since the brilliant example given us by Jung in his
interpretation of a case of dementia praecox which was far severer than this one and which
exhibited symptoms far more remote from the normal. The high level of our present patient’s
intelligence, too, and his communicativeness, seem likely to facilitate the accomplishment of our
task along these lines. He himself not in frequently presses the key into our hands, by adding a
gloss, a quotation or an example to some delusional proposition in an apparently incidental
manner, or even by expressly denying some parallel to it that has arisen in his own mind. For
when this happens, we have only to follow our usual psycho-analytic technique - to strip his
sentence of its negative form, to take his example as being the actual thing, or his quotation or
gloss as being the original source - and we find ourselves in possession of what we are looking
for, namely a translation of the paranoid mode of expression into the normal one.
It is perhaps worth giving a more detailed illustration of this procedure. Schreber complains of the
nuisance created by the so-called ‘miracled birds’ or ‘talking birds’, to which he ascribes a number
of very remarkable qualities (208-14). It is his belief that they are composed of former ‘fore-courts
of Heaven’, that is, of human souls which have entered into a state of bliss, and that they have
been loaded with ptomaine! poison and set on to him. They have been brought to the condition
of repeating ‘meaningless phrases which they have learnt by heart’ and which have been ‘dinned
into them’. Each time that they have discharged their load of ptomaine poison on to him - that is
each time that they have ‘reeled off the phrases which have been dinned into them, as it were’ -
they become to some extent absorbed into his soul, with the words ‘The deuce of a fellow!’ or
‘Deuce take it!’ which are the only words they are still capable of using to express a genuine
feeling. They cannot understand the meaning of the words they speak, but they are by nature
susceptible to similarity of sounds, though the similarity need not necessarily be a complete one.
Thus it is immaterial to them whether one says: ‘Santiago’ or ‘Karthago’, ‘Chinesentum’ or ‘Jesum Christum’, ‘Abendrot’ or ‘Atemnot’, ‘Ariman’ or ‘Ackermann’ etc." (210.)

As we read this description, we cannot avoid the idea that what it really refers to must be young
girls. In a carping mood people often compare them to geese, ungallantly accuse then of having
‘the brains of a bird’ and declare that they can say nothing but phrases learnt by rote and they
betray their lack of education by confusing foreign words that sound alike. The phrase ‘The
deuce of a fellow!’, which is the only thing that they are serious about, would in that case be an
allusion to the triumph of the young man who has succeeded in impressing them. And, sure
enough, a few pages later we come upon a passage in which Schreber confirms this
interpretation: ‘For purposes of distinction, I have as a joke given girls’ names to a great number
of the remaining bird-souls; since by their inquisitiveness, their voluptuous bent, etc., they one
and all most readily suggest a comparison with little girls. Some of these girls’ names have since
been adopted by the rays of God and have been retained as a designation of the bird-souls in
question.’ (214.) This easy interpretation of the ‘miracled birds’ gives us a hint which may help us
towards understanding the enigmatic ‘fore-courts of Heaven’.

I am quite aware that a psycho-analyst needs no small amount of tact and restraint whenever in
the course of his work he goes beyond the typical instances of interpretation and that his
listeners or readers will only follow him as far a their own familiarity with analytic technique will
allow them. He has every reason, therefore, to guard against the risk that an increased display of
acumen on his part may be accompanied by a diminution in the certainty and trustworthiness of
his results. It is thus only natural that one analyst will tend too much in the direction of caution
and another too much in the direction of boldness. It will not be possible to define the proper
limits of justifiable interpretation until many experiments have been made and until the subject
has become more familiar. In working upon the case of Schreber I have had a policy of restraint
forced on me by the circumstance that the opposition to his publishing the Denkwürdigkeiten was
so far effective as to withhold a considerable portion of the material from our knowledge - the
portion, too, which would in all probability have thrown the most important light upon the case.!
Thus, for instance, the third chapter of the book opens with this promising announcement: ‘I shall
now proceed to describe certain events which occurred to other members of my family and which
may conceivably have been connected with the soul-murder I have postulated; for there is at any
rate something more or less problematical about all of them, something not easily explicable upon
the lines of ordinary human experience.’ (33.) But the next sentence, which is also the last of the
chapter, is as follows: ‘The remainder of this chapter has been withheld from print as being
unsuitable for publication.’ I shall therefore have to be satisfied if I can succeed in tracing back at
any rate the nucleus of the delusional structure with some degree of certainty to familiar human

‘When we survey the contents of this document’, writes Dr. Weber in his report, ‘and consider the mass of
indiscretions in regard to himself and other persons which it contains, when we observe the unblushing
manner in which he describes situations and events which are of the most delicate nature and indeed, in an
aesthetic sense, utterly impossible, when we reflect upon his use of strong language of the most offensive
kind, and so forth, we shall find it quite impossible to understand how a man, distinguished apart from this by
his tact and refinement, could contemplate taking a step so compromising to himself in the public eye,
unless we bear in mind the fact that . . .’ etc. etc. (402.) Surely we can hardly expect that a case history
which sets out to give a picture of deranged humanity and its struggles to rehabilitate itself should exhibit
‘discretion’ and ‘aesthetic’ charm.

With this object in view I shall now mention a further small piece of the case history to which
sufficient weight is not given in the reports, although the patient himself has done all he can to
put it in the foreground. I refer to Schreber’s relations to his first physician, Geheimrat Prof.
Flechsig of Leipzig.

As we already know, Schreber’s case at first took the form of delusions of persecution, and did
not begin to lose it until the turning-point of his illness (the time of his ‘reconciliation’). From that
time onwards the persecutions became less and less intolerable, and the ignominious purpose
which at first underlay his threatened emasculation began to be superseded by a purpose in
consonance with the Order of Things. But the first author of all these acts of persecution was
Flechsig, and he remains their instigator throughout the whole course of the illness.

Of the actual nature of Flechsig’s enormity and its motives the patient speaks with the
characteristic vagueness and obscurity which may be regarded as marks of an especially intense
work of delusion- formation, if it is legitimate to judge paranoia on the model of a far more familiar
mental phenomenon - the dream. Flechsig, according to the patient, committed, or attempted to
commit, ‘soul-murder’ upon him - an act which, he thought, was comparable with the effort made
by the devil or by demons to gain possession of a soul and may have had its prototype in events
which occurred between members of the Flechsig and Schreber families long since deceased (22
ff.). We should be glad to learn more of the meaning of this ‘soul-murder’, but at this point our
sources relapse once more into a tendentious silence: ‘As to what constitutes the true essence of
soul-murder, and as to its technique, if I may so describe it, I am able to say nothing beyond what
has already been indicated. There is only this, perhaps, to be added . . . (The passage which
follows is unsuitable for publication.)’ (28.) As a result of this omission we are left in the dark on
the question of what is meant by ‘soul-murder’. We shall refer later on to the only hint upon the
subject which has evaded censorship.

‘Even now the voices that talk with me call out your name to me hundreds of times each day. They name
you in certain constantly recurring connections, and especially as being the first author of the injuries I have
suffered. And yet the personal relations which existed between us for a time have, so far as I am
concerned, long since faded into the background; so that I myself could have little enough reason to be for
ever recalling you to my mind, and still less for doing so with any feelings of resentment.’ (‘Open Letter to
Professor Flechsig’, viii.)

However this may be, a further development of Schreber’s delusions soon took place, which
affected his relations to God without altering his relations to Flechsig. Hitherto he had regarded
Flechsig (or rather his soul) as his only true enemy and had looked upon God Almighty as his ally;
but now he could not avoid the thought that God Himself had played the part of accessory, if not
of instigator, in the plot against him. (59.) Flechsig, however, remained the first seducer, to whose
influence God had yielded (60). He had succeeded in making his way up to heaven with his
whole soul or a part of it and in becoming a ‘leader of rays’, without dying or undergoing any
preliminary purification.! (56.) The Flechsig soul continued to play this role even after the patient
had been moved from the Leipzig clinic to Dr. Pierson’s asylum. The influence of the new
environment was shown by the Flechsig soul being joined by the soul of the chief attendant,
whom the patient recognized as a person who had formerly lived in the same block of flats as
himself. This was represented as being the von W. soul." The Flechsig soul then introduced the
system of ‘soul-division’, which assumed large proportions. At one time there were as many as
forty to sixty sub-divisions of the Flechsig soul; two of its larger divisions were known as the ‘upper
Flechsig’ and the ‘middle Flechsig’. The von W. soul (the chief attendant’s) behaved in just the
same fashion (111). It was sometimes most entertaining to notice the way in which these two
souls, in spite of their alliance, carried on a feud with one another, the aristocratic pride of the
one pitted against the professorial vanity of the other (113). During his first weeks at Sonnenstein
(to which hr, was finally moved in the summer of 1894) the soul of his new physician, Dr. Weber,
came into play; and shortly afterwards the change-over took place in the development of his
delusions which we have come to know as his ‘reconciliation’.

According to another and significant version, which, however, was soon rejected, Professor Flechsig had
shot himself either at Weissenburg in Alsace or in a police cell at Leipzig. The patient saw his funeral go
past, though not in the direction that was to be expected in view of the relative positions of the University
Clinic and the cemetery. On other occasions Flechsig appeared to him in the company of a policeman, or in
conversation with his wife. Schreber was a witness of this conversation by the method of ‘nerve-connection’,
and in the course of it Professor Flechsig called himself ‘God Flechsig’ to his wife, so that she was inclined
to think he had gone mad. (82.)

" The voices informed him that in the course of an official enquiry this von W. had made some untrue
statements about him, either deliberately or out of carelessness, and in particular had accused him of
masturbation. As a punishment for this he was now obliged to wait on the patient (108)
During this later stay at Sonnenstein, when God had begun to appreciate him better, a raid was
made upon the souls, which had been multiplied so much as to become a nuisance. As a result
of this, the Flechsig soul survived in only one or two shapes, and the von W. soul in only a single
one. The latter soon disappeared altogether. The divisions of the Flechsig soul, which slowly lost
both their intelligence and their power, then came to be described as the ‘posterior Flechsig’ and
the ‘"Oh well!" Party’. That the Flechsig soul retained its importance to the last, is made clear by
Schreber’s prefatory ‘Open Letter to Herr Geheimrat Prof. Dr. Flechsig’.

In this remarkable document Schreber expresses his firm conviction that the physician who
influenced him had the same visions and received the same disclosures upon supernatural things
as he himself. He protests on the very first page that the author of the Denkwürdigkeiten has not
the remotest intention of making an attack upon the doctor’s honour, and the same point is
earnestly and emphatically repeated in the patient’s presentations of his position (343, 445). It is
evident that he is endeavouring to distinguish the ‘soul Flechsig’ from the living man of the same
name, the Flechsig of his delusions from the real Flechsig.!

‘I am accordingly obliged to admit as a possibility that everything in the first chapters of my
Denkwürdigkeiten which is connected with the name of Flechsig may only refer to the soul Flechsig as
distinguished from the living man. For that his soul has a separate existence is a certain fact, though it
cannot be explained upon any natural basis.’ (342-3.)

The study of a number of cases of delusions of persecution has led me as well as other
investigators to the view that the relation between the patient and his persecutor can be reduced
to a simple formula. It appears that the person to whom the delusion ascribes so much power
and influence, in whose hands all the threads of the conspiracy converge, is, if he is definitely
named, either identical with some one who played an equally important part in the patient’s
emotional life before his illness, or is easily recognizable as a substitute for him. The intensity of
the emotion is projected in the shape of external power, while its quality is changed into the
opposite. The person who is now hated and feared for being a persecutor was at one time loved
and honoured. The main purpose of the persecution asserted by the patient’s delusion is to
justify the change in his emotional attitude.

Bearing this point of view in mind, let us now examine the relations which had formerly existed
between Schreber and his physician and persecutor, Flechsig. We have already heard that, in
the years 1884 and 1885, Schreber suffered from a first attack of nervous disorder, which ran its
course ‘without the occurrence of any incidents bordering upon the sphere of the
supernatural’ (35). While he was in this condition, which was described as ‘hypochondria’ and
seems not to have overstepped the limits of a neurosis, Flechsig acted as his doctor. At that time
Schreber spent six months in the University Clinic at Leipzig. We learn that after his recovery he
had cordial feelings towards his doctor. ‘The main thing was that, after a fairly long period of
convalescence which I spent in travelling, I was finally cured; and it was therefore impossible that
I should feel anything at that time but the liveliest gratitude towards Professor Flechsig. I gave a
marked expression to this feeling both in a personal visit which I subsequently paid him and in
what I deemed to be an appropriate honorarium.’ (35-6.) It is true that Schreber’s encomium in
the Denkwürdigkeiten upon this first treatment of Flechsig’s is not entirely with out reservations;
but that can easily be understood if we consider that his attitude had in the meantime been
reversed. The passage immediately following the one that has just been quoted bears witness to
the original warmth of his feelings towards the physician who had treated him so successfully:
‘The gratitude of my wife was perhaps even more heartfelt; for she revered Professor Flechsig as
the man who had restored her husband to her, and hence it was that for years she kept his
portrait standing upon her writing-table.’ (36.)

Since we cannot obtain any insight into the causes of the first illness (a knowledge of which is
undoubtedly indispensable for properly elucidating the second and severer illness) we must now
plunge at random into an unknown concatenation of circumstances. During the incubation period
of his illness, as we are aware (that is, between June 1893, when he was appointed to his new
post, and the following October, when he took up his duties), he repeatedly dreamt that his old
nervous disorder had returned. Once, moreover, when he was half asleep, he had a feeling that
after all it must be nice to be a woman submitting to the act of copulation. The dreams and the
phantasy are reported by Schreber in immediate succession; and if we also bring together their
subject-matter, we shall be able to infer that, at the same time as his recollection of his illness, a
recollection of his doctor was also aroused in his mind, and that the feminine attitude which he
assumed in the phantasy was from the first directed towards the doctor. Or it may be that the
dream of his illness having returned simply expressed some such longing as: ‘I wish I could see
Flechsig again!’ Our ignorance of the mental content of the first illness bars our way in this
direction. Perhaps that illness had left behind in him a feeling of affectionate dependence upon
his doctor, which had now, for some unknown reason, become intensified to the pitch of an erotic
desire. This feminine phantasy which was still kept impersonal, was met at once by an indignant
repudiation - a true ‘masculine protest’, to use Adler’s expression, but in a sense different from
his. But in the severe psychosis which broke out soon afterwards the feminine phantasy carried
everything before it; and it only requires a slight correction of the characteristic paranoic
indefiniteness of Schreber’s mode of expression to enable us to divine the fact that the patient
was in fear of sexual abuse at the hands of his doctor himself. The exciting cause of his illness,
then, was an outburst of homosexual libido; the object of this libido was probably from the very
first his doctor, Flechsig; and his struggles against the libidinal impulse produced the confli
which gave rise to the symptoms.

I will pause here for a moment to meet a storm of remonstrances and objections. Any one
acquainted with the present state of psychiatry must be prepared to face trouble.
‘Is it not an act of irresponsible levity, an indiscretion and a calumny, to charge a man of such
high ethical standing as the former Senatspräsident Schreber with homosexuality?’ - No. The
patient has himself informed the world at large of his phantasy of being transformed into a
woman, and he has allowed all personal considerations to be outweighed by interests of a higher
nature. Thus he has himself given us the right to occupy ourselves with his phantasy, and in
translating it into the technical terminology of medicine we have not made the slightest addition to
its content.

‘Yes, but he was not in his right mind when he did it. His delusion that he was being transformed
into a woman was a pathological idea.’ - We have not forgotten that. Indeed our only concern is
with the meaning and origin of this pathological idea. We will appeal to the distinction he himself
draws between the man Flechsig and the ‘Flechsig soul’. We are not making reproaches of any
kind against him - whether for having had homosexual impulses or for having endeavoured to
suppress them. Psychiatrists should at last take a lesson from this patient, when they see him
trying, in spite of his delusions, not to confuse the world of the unconscious with the world of

‘But it is nowhere expressly stated that the transformation into a woman which he so much
dreaded was to be carried out for the benefit of Flechsig.’ - That is true; and it is not difficult to
understand why, in preparing his memoirs for publication, since he was anxious not to insult the
‘man Flechsig’, he should have avoided so gross an accusation. But the toning-down of his
language owing to these considerations did not go so far as to be able to conceal the true
meaning of his accusation. Indeed, it may be maintained that after all it is expressed openly in
such a passage as the following: ‘In this way a conspiracy against me was brought to a head (in
about March or April, 1894). Its object was to contrive that, when once my nervous complaint had
been recognized as incurable or assumed to be so, I should be handed over to a certain person
in such a manner that my soul should be delivered up to him, but my body . . . should be
transformed into a female body, and as such surrendered to the person in question with a view to
sexual abuse . . .’! (56). It is unnecessary to remark that no other individual is ever named who
could be put in Flechsig’s place. Towards the end of Schreber’s stay in the clinic at Leipzig, a fear
occurred to his mind that he ‘was to be thrown to the attendants’ for the purpose of sexual abuse
(98). Any remaining doubts that we have upon the nature of the part originally attributed to the
doctor are dispelled when, in the later stages of his delusion, we find Schreber outspokenly
admitting his feminine attitude towards God. The other accusation against Flechsig echoes overloudly
through the book. Flechsig, he says, tried to commit soul-murder upon him. As we already
know, the patient was himself not clear as to the actual nature of that crime, but it was connected
with matters of discretion which precluded their publication (as we see from the suppressed third
chapter). From this point a single thread takes us further. Schreber illustrates the nature of soulmurder
by referring to the legends embodied in Goethe’s Faust, Byron’s Manfred, Weber’s
Freischütz, etc. (22), and one of these instances is further cited in another passage. In
discussing the division of God into two persons, Schreber identifies his ‘lower God’ and ‘upper
God’ with Ahriman and Ormuzd respectively (19); and a little later a casual footnote occurs:
‘Moreover, the name of Ahriman also appears in connection with a soul-murder in, for example,
Lord Byron’s Manfred.’ (20.) In the play which is thus referred to there is scarcely anything
comparable to the bartering of Faust’s soul, and I have searched it in vain for the expression
‘soul-murder’. But the essence and the secret of the whole work lies in - an incestuous relation
between a brother and a sister. And here our thread breaks off short."

" By way of substantiating the above assertion I will quote a passage from the last scene of the play, in
which Manfred says to the demon who has come to fetch him away:
. . . my past power Was purchased by no compact with thy crew.

There is thus a direct contradiction of a soul having been bartered. This mistake on Schreber’s part was
probably not without its significance. - It is plausible, by the way, to connect the plot of Manfred with the
incestuous relations which have repeatedly been asserted to exist between the poet and his half-sister. And
it is not a little striking that the action of Byron’s other play, his celebrated Cain, should be laid in the primal family, where no objections could exist to incest between brother and sister. - Finally, we cannot leave the subject of soulmurder
without quoting one more passage from the Denkwürdigkeiten: ‘in this connection Flechsig used
formerly to be named as the first author of soul-murder, whereas for some time past the facts have been
deliberately inverted and an attempt has been made to "represent" myself as being the one who practises
soul-murder . . .’ (23.)

At a later stage in this paper I intend to return to a discussion of some further objections; but in
the meantime I shall consider myself justified in maintaining the view that the basis of Schreber’s
illness was the outburst of a homosexual impulse. This hypothesis harmonizes with a noteworthy
detail of the case history, which remains otherwise inexplicable. The patient had a fresh ‘nervous
collapse’, which exercised a decisive effect upon the course of his illness, at a time when his wife
was taking a short holiday on account of her own health. Up till then she had spent several hours
with him every day and had taken her mid-day meal with him. But when she returned after an
absence of four days, she found him most sadly altered: so much so, indeed, that he himself no
longer wished to see her. ‘What especially determined my mental break-down was a particular
night, during which I had a quite extraordinary number of emissions - quite half a dozen, all in
that one night.’ (44.) It is easy to understand that the mere presence of his wife must have acted
as a protection against the attractive power of the men about him; and if we are prepared to
admit that an emission cannot occur in an adult without some mental concomitant, we shall be
able to supplement the patient’s emissions that night by assuming that they were accompanied
by homosexual phantasies which remained unconscious.

The question of why this outburst of homosexual libido overtook the patient precisely at this
period (that is, between the dates of his appointment and of his move to Dresden) cannot be
answered in the absence of more precise knowledge of the story of his life. Generally speaking,
every human being oscillates all through his life between heterosexual and homosexual feelings,
and any frustration or disappointment in the one direction is apt to drive him over into the other.

We know nothing of these factors in Schreber’s case, but we must not omit to draw attention to a
somatic factor which may very well have been relevant. At the time of this illness Dr. Schreber was
fifty-one years old, and he had therefore reached an age which is of critical importance in sexual
life. It is a period at which in women the sexual function, after a phase of intensified activity
enters upon a process of far-reaching involution; nor do men appear to be exempt from its
influence, for men as well as women are subject to a ‘climacteric’ and to the susceptibilities to
disease which go along with it.!

I owe my knowledge of Schreber’s age at the time of his illness to some information which was kindly given
me by one of his relatives, through the agency of Dr. Stegmann of Dresden. Apart from this one fact,
however, I have made use of no material in this paper that is not derived from the actual text of the

I can well imagine what a dubious hypothesis it must appear to be to suppose that a man’s
friendly feeling towards his doctor can suddenly break out in an intensified form after a lapse of
eight years! and become the occasion of such a severe mental disorder. But I do not think we
should be justified in dismissing such a hypothesis merely on account of its inherent improbability,
if it recommends itself to us on other grounds; we ought rather to inquire how far we shall get if
we follow it up. For the improbability may be of a passing kind and may be due to the fact that
the doubtful hypothesis has not as yet been brought into relation with any other pieces of
knowledge and that it is the first hypothesis with which the problem has been approached. But
for the benefit of those who are unable to hold their judgement in suspense and who regard our
hypothesis as altogether untenable, it is easy to suggest a possibility which would rob it of its
bewildering character. The patient’s friendly feeling towards his doctor may very well have been
due to a process of ‘transference’, by means of which an emotional cathexis became transpose
from some person who was important to him on to the doctor who was in reality indifferent to him;
so that the doctor will have been chosen as a deputy or surrogate for some one much closer to
him. To put the matter in a more concrete form: the patient was reminded of his brother or father
by the figure of the doctor, he rediscovered them in him; there will then be nothing to wonder at
if, in certain circumstances, a longing for the surrogate figure reappeared in him and operated
with a violence that is only to be explained in the light of its origin and primary significance.
With a view to following up this attempt at an explanation, I naturally thought it worth while
discovering whether the patient’s father was still alive at the time at which he fell ill, whether he
had had a brother, and if so whether he was then living or among the ‘blest’. I was pleased,
therefore, when, after a prolonged search through the pages of the Denkwürdigkeiten, I came at
last upon a passage in which the patient sets these doubts at rest: ‘The memory of my father and
my brother . . . is as sacred to me as . . .’ etc. (442.) So that both of them were dead at the time
of the onset of his second illness (and, it may be, of his first illness as well).
We shall therefore, I think, raise no further objections to the hypothesis that the exciting cause of
the illness was the appearance in him of a feminine (that is, a passive homosexual) wishful
phantasy, which took as its object the figure of his doctor. An intense resistance to this phantasy
arose on the part of Schreber’s personality, and the ensuing defensive struggle, which might
perhaps just as well have assumed some other shape, took on, for reasons unknown to us, that
of a delusion of persecution. The person he longed for now became his persecutor, and the
content of his wishful phantasy became the content of his persecution. It may be presumed that
the same schematic outline will turn out to be applicable to other cases of delusions of
persecution. What distinguishes Schreber’s case from others, however, is its further development
and the transformation it underwent in the course of it.

This was the length of the interval between Schreber’s first and second illnesses.
One such change was the replacement of Flechsig by the superior figure of God. This seems at
first as though it were a sign of aggravation of the conflict, an intensification of the unbearable
persecution, but it soon becomes evident that it was preparing the way for the second change
and, with it, the solution of the conflict. It was impossible for Schreber to become reconciled to
playing the part of a female wanton towards his doctor; but the task of providing God Himself with
the voluptuous sensations that He required called up no such resistance on the part of his ego.

Emasculation was now no longer a disgrace; it became ‘consonant with the Order of Things’, it
took its place in a great cosmic chain of events, and was instrumental in the re-creation of
humanity after its extinction. ‘A new race of men, born from the spirit of Schreber’ would, so he
thought, revere as their ancestor this man who believed himself the victim of persecution. By this
means an outlet was provided which would satisfy both of the contending forces. His ego found
compensation in his megalomania, while his feminine wishful phantasy made its way through and
became acceptable. The struggle and the illness could cease. The patient’s sense of reality,
however, which had in the meantime become stronger, compelled him to postpone the solution
from the present to the remote future, and to content himself with what might be described as an
asymptotic wish-fulfilment.! Some time or other, he anticipated, his transformation into a woman
would come about; until then the personality of Dr. Schreber would remain indestructible
In textbooks of psychiatry we frequently come across statements to the effect that megalomania
can develop out of delusions of persecution. The process is supposed to be as follows. The
patient is primarily the victim of a delusion that he is being persecuted by powers of the greatest
might. He then feels a need to account to himself for this, and in that way hits on the idea that he
himself is a very exalted personage and worthy of such persecution. The development of
megalomania is thus attributed by the textbooks to a process which (borrowing a useful word from
Ernest Jones) we may describe as ‘rationalization’. But to ascribe such important affective
consequences to a rationalization is, as it seems to us, an entirely unpsychological proceeding;
and we would consequently draw a sharp distinction between our opinion and the one which we
have quoted from the textbooks. We are making no claim, for the moment, to knowing the origin
of the megalomania.

‘It is only, he writes towards the end of the book, ‘as possibilities which must be taken into account, that I
mention that my emasculation may even yet be accomplished and may result in a new generation issuing
from my womb by divine impregnation.’ (293.)

Turning once more to the case of Schreber, we are bound to admit that any attempt at throwing
light upon the transformation in his delusion brings us up against extraordinary difficulties. In what
manner and by what means was the ascent from Flechsig to God brought about? From what
source did he derive the megalomania which so fortunately enabled him to become reconciled to
his persecution, or, in analytical phraseology, to accept the wishful phantasy which had had to be
repressed? The Denkwürdigkeiten give us a first clue; for they show us that in the patient’s mind
‘Flechsig’ and ‘God’ belonged to the same class. In one of his phantasies he overheard a
conversation between Flechsig and his wife, in which the former asserted that he was ‘God
Flechsig’, so that his wife thought he had gone mad (82). But there is another feature in the
development of Schreber’s delusions which claims our attention. If we take a survey of the
delusions as a whole we see that the persecutor is divided into Flechsig and God; in just the
same way Flechsig himself subsequently splits up into two personalities, the ‘upper’ and the
‘middle’ Flechsig, and God into the ‘lower’ and the ‘upper’ God. In the later stages of the illness
the decomposition of Flechsig goes further still (193). A process of decomposition of this kind is
very characteristic of paranoia. Paranoia decomposes just as hysteria condenses. Or rather,
paranoia resolves once more into their elements the products of the condensations and
identifications which are effected in the unconscious. The frequent repetition of the decomposin
process in Schreber’s case would, according to Jung, be an expression of the importance which
the person in question possessed for him.! All of this dividing up of Flechsig and God into a
number of persons thus had the same meaning as the splitting of the persecutor into Flechsig
and God. They were all duplications of one and the same important relationship." But, in order to
interpret all these details, we must further draw attention to our view of this decomposition of the
persecutor into Flechsig and God as a paranoid reaction to a previously established identification
of the two figures or their belonging to the same class. If the persecutor Flechsig was originally a
person whom Schreber loved, then God must also simply be the reappearance of some one else
whom he loved, and probably some one of greater importance.

Jung (1910a). Jung is probably right when he goes on to say that the decomposition follows the general
lines taken by schizophrenia in that it uses a process of analysis in order to produce a watering-down effect,
and is thus designed to prevent the occurrence of unduly powerful impressions. When, however, one of his
patients said to him: ‘Oh, are you Dr. J. too? There was some one here this morning who said he was Dr. J.’,
we must interpret it as being an admission to this effect: ‘You remind me now of a different member of the
class of my transferences from the one you reminded me of when you visited me last.’
" Otto Rank (1909) has found the same process at work in the formation of myths.

If we pursue this train of thought, which seems to be a legitimate one, we shall be driven to the

conclusion that the other person must have been his father; this makes it all the clearer that
Flechsig must have stood for his brother - who, let us hope, may have been older than himself.!

The feminine phantasy, which aroused such violent opposition in the patient, thus had its root in
a longing, intensified to an erotic pitch, for his father and brother. This feeling, so far as it referred
to his brother, passed, by a process of transference, on to his doctor, Flechsig; and when it was
carried back on to his father a settlement of the conflict was reached.

We shall not feel that we have been justified in thus introducing Schreber’s father into his
delusions, unless the new hypothesis shows itself of some use to us in understanding the case
and in elucidating details of the delusions which are as yet unintelligible. It will be recalled tha
Schreber’s God and his relations to Him exhibited the most curious features: how they showed
the strangest mixture of blasphemous criticism and mutinous insubordination on the one hand
and of reverent devotion on the other. God, according to him, had succumbed to the misleading
influence of Flechsig: He was incapable of learning anything by experience, and did not
understand living men because He only knew how to deal with corpses; and He manifested His
power in a succession of miracles which, striking though they might be, were none the less futile
and silly.

No information on this point is to be found in the Denkwürdigkeiten.

Now the father of Senatspräsident Dr. Schreber was no insignificant person. He was the Dr.
Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber whose memory is kept green to this day by the numerous
Schreber Associations which flourish especially in Saxony; and, moreover, he was a physician.
His activities in favour of promoting the harmonious upbringing of the young, of securing coordination
between education in the home and in the school, of introducing physical culture and
manual work with a view to raising the standards of health - all this exerted a lasting influence
upon his contemporaries.! His great reputation as the founder of therapeutic gymnastics in
Germany is still shown by the wide circulation of his Ärtzliche Zimmergymnastik in medical circles
and the numerous editions through which it has passed.

Such a father as this was by no means unsuitable for transfiguration into a God in the
affectionate memory of the son from whom he had been so early separated by death. It is true
that we cannot help feeling that there is an impassable gulf between the personality of God and
that of any human being, however eminent he may be. But we must remember that this has not
always been so. The gods of the peoples of antiquity stood in a closer human relationship to
them. The Romans used to deify their dead emperors as a matter of routine; and the Emperor
Vespasian, a sensible and competent man, exclaimed when he was first taken ill: ‘Alas! Methinks
I am becoming a God!’"

I have to thank my colleague Dr. Stegmann of Dresden for his kindness in letting me see a copy of a
journal entitled Der Freund der Schreber-Vereine [The Friend of the Schreber Associations]. This number
(Vol. II. No. 10) celebrates the centenary of Dr. Schreber’s birth, and some biographical data are conained
in it. Dr. Schreber senior was born in 1808 and died in 1861, at the age of only fifty-three. From the source
which I have already mentioned I know that our patient was at that time nineteen years old.

" Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Book VIII, Chapter 23. This practice of deification began with Julius
Caesar. Augustus styled himself ‘Divi filius’ [‘the son of the God’] in his inscriptions.

We are perfectly familiar with the infantile attitude of boys towards their father; it is composed of
the same mixture of reverent submission and mutinous insubordination that we have found in
Schreber’s relation to his God, and is the unmistakable prototype of that relation, which is
faithfully copied from it. But the circumstance that Schreber’s father was a physician, and a most
eminent physician, and one who was no doubt highly respected by his patients, is what explain
the most striking characteristics of his God and those upon which he dwells in such a critical
fashion. Could more bitter scorn be shown for such a physician than by declaring that he
understands nothing about living men and only knows how to deal with corpses? No doubt it is
an essential attribute of God to perform miracles; but a physician performs miracles too; he
effects miraculous cures, as his enthusiastic clients proclaim. So that when we see that these
very miracles (the material for which was provided by the patient’s hypochondria) turn out to be
incredible, absurd, and to some extent positively silly, we are reminded of the assertion in my
Interpretation of Dreams that absurdity in dreams expresses ridicule and derision.! Evidently,
therefore, it is used for the same purposes in paranoia. As regards some of the other reproaches
which he levelled against God, such, for instance, as that He learned nothing by experience, it is
natural to suppose that they are examples of the tu quoque mechanism used by children," which,
when they receive a reproof, flings it back unchanged upon the person who originated it.
Similarly, the voices give us grounds for suspecting that the accusation of soul-murder brought
against Flechsig was in the first instance a self-accusation.

Emboldened by the discovery that his father’s profession helps to explain the peculiarities of
Schreber’s God, we shall now venture upon an interpretation which may throw some light upon
the remarkable structure of that Being. The heavenly world consisted, as we know, of the
‘anterior realms of God’ which were also called the ‘fore-courts of Heaven’ and which contained
the souls of the dead, and of the ‘lower’ and the ‘upper’ God, who together constituted the
‘posterior realms of God’ (19). Although we must be prepared to find that there is a condensation
here which we shall not be able to resolve, it is nevertheless worth while referring to a clue that is
already in our hands. If the ‘miracled’ birds, which have been shown to be girls, were originally
fore-courts of Heaven, may it not be that the anterior realms of God and the fore-courts! of
Heaven are to be regarded as a symbol of what is female, and the posterior realms of God as a
symbol of what is male? If we knew for certain that Schreber’s dead brother was older than
himself, we might suppose that the decomposition of God into the lower and the upper God gave
expression to the patient’s recollection that after his father’s early death his elder brother had
stepped into his place.

In this connection, finally, I should like to draw attention to the subject of the sun, which, through
its ‘rays’, came to have so much importance in the expression of his delusions. Schreber has a
quite peculiar relation to the sun. It speaks to him in human language, and thus reveals itself to
him as a living being, or as the organ of a yet higher being lying behind it (9). We learn from a
medical report that at one time he ‘used to shout threats and abuse at it and positively bellow at
it’ (382)" and used to call out to it that it must crawl away from him and hide. He himself tells us
that the sun turns pale before him. The manner in which it is bound up with his fate is shown by
the important alterations it undergoes as soon as changes begin to occur in him, as, for instance,
during his first weeks at Sonnenstein (135). Schreber makes it easy for us to interpret this solar
myth of his. He identifies the sun directly with God, sometimes with the lower God (Ahriman),4 and
sometimes with the upper. ‘On the following day . . . I saw the upper God (Ormuzd), and this time
not with my spiritual eyes but with my bodily ones. It was the sun, but not the sun in its ordinary
aspect, as it is known to all men; it was . . .’ etc. (137-8.) It is therefore no more than consistent of him to treat it in the same way as he treats God Himself.

The sun, therefore, is nothing but another sublimated symbol for the father; and in pointing this
out I must disclaim all responsibility for the monotony of the solutions provided by psychoanalysis.
In this instance symbolism overrides grammatical gender - at least so far as German
goes,! for in most other languages the sun is masculine. Its counterpart in this picture of the two
parents is ‘Mother Earth’ as she is generally called. We frequently come upon confirmations of
this assertion in resolving the pathogenic phantasies of neurotics by psycho-analysis. I can make
no more than the barest allusion to the relation of all this to cosmic myths. One of my patients,
who had lost his father at a very early age, was always seeking to rediscover him in what wa
grand and sublime in Nature. Since I have known this, it has seemed to me probable that
Nietzsche’s hymn ‘Vor Sonnenaufgang’ [‘Before Sunrise’] is an expression of the same longing."
Another patient, who became neurotic after his father’s death, was seized with his first attak of
anxiety and giddiness while the sun shone upon him as he was working in the garden with a
spade. He spontaneously put forward as an interpretation that he had become frightened
because his father had looked at him while he was at work upon his mother with a sharp
instrument. When I ventured upon a mild remonstrance, he gave an air of greater plausibility to
his view by telling me that even in his father’s lifetime he had compared him with the sun, though
then it had been in a satirical sense. Whenever he had been asked where his father was going
to spend the summer he had replied in these sonorous words from the ‘Prologue in Heaven’:
Und seine vorgeschrieb’ne Reise Vollendet er mit Donnergang.#

His father, acting on medical advice, had been in the habit of paying an annual visit to
Marienbad. This patient’s infantile attitude towards his father took effect in two successive
phases. As long as his father was alive it showed itself in unmitigated rebelliousness and open
discord, but immediately after his death it took the form of a neurosis based upon abject
submission and deferred obedience to him.

Thus in the case of Schreber we find ourselves once again on the familiar ground of the father complex.

The patient’s struggle with Flechsig became revealed to him as a conflict with God, and we must therefore construe it as an infantile conflict with the father whom he loved; the details of that conflict (of which we know nothing) are what determined the content of his delusions. None
of the material which in other cases of the sort is brought to light by analysis is absent in the
present one: every element is hinted at in one way or another. In infantile experiences such as
this the father appears as an interferer with the satisfaction which the child is trying to obtain; this
is usually of an auto-erotic character, though at a later date it is often replaced in phantasy by
some other satisfaction of a less inglorious kind." In the final stage of Schreber’s delusion a
magnificent victory was scored by the infantile sexual urge; for voluptuousness became Godfearing,
and God Himself (his father) never tired of demanding it from him. His father’s most
dreaded threat, castration, actually provided the material for his wishful phantasy (at first resisted
but later accepted) of being transformed into a woman. His allusion to an offence covered by the
surrogate idea ‘soul-murder’ could not be more transparent. The chief attendant was discovered
to be identical with his neighbour von W., who, according to the voices, had falsely accused him
of masturbation (108). The voices said, as though giving grounds for the threat of castration: ‘For

you are to be represented as being given over to voluptuous excesses.’# (127-8.) Finally, we
come to the enforced thinking (47) to which the patient submitted himself because he supposed
that God would believe he had become an idiot and would withdraw from him if he ceased
thinking for a moment. This is a reaction (with which we are also familiar in other connections) to
the threat or fear of losing one’s reason4 as a result of indulging in sexual practices an
especially in masturbation. Considering the enormous number of delusional ideas of a
hypochondriacal nature5 which the patient developed, no great importance should perhaps be
attached to the fact that some of them coincide word for word with the hypochondriacal fears of

In the same way, Schreber’s ‘feminine wishful phantasy’ is simply one of the typical forms taken by the
infantile nuclear complex.

Any one who was more daring than I am in making interpretations, or who was in touch with
Schreber’s family and consequently better acquainted with the society in which he moved and
the small events of his life, would find it an easy matter to trace back innumerable details of his
delusions to their sources and so discover their meaning, and this in spite of the censorship to
which the Denkwürdigkeiten have been subjected. But as it is, we must necessarily content
ourselves with this shadowy sketch of the infantile material which was used by the paranoic
disorder in portraying the current conflict.

Perhaps I may be allowed to add a few words with a view to establishing the causes of this
conflict that broke out it relation to the feminine wishful phantasy. As we know, when a wishful
phantasy makes its appearance, our business is to bring it into connection with some frustration,
some privation in real life. Now Schreber admits having suffered a privation of the kind. His
marriage, which he describes as being in other respects a happy one, brought him no children;
and in particular it brought him no son who might have consoled him for the loss of his father and
brother and upon whom he might have drained off his unsatisfied homosexual affections.! His
family line threatened to die out, and it seems that he felt no little pride in his birth and lineage.
‘Both the Flechsigs and the Schrebers were members of "the highest nobility of Heaven", as the
phrase went. The Schrebers in particular bore the title of "Margraves of Tuscany and Tasmania";
for souls, urged by some sort of personal vanity, have a custom of adorning themselves with
somewhat high-sounding titles borrowed from this world.’" (24.) The great Napoleon obtained a
divorce from Josephine (though only after severe internal struggles) because she could not
propagate the dynasty.# Dr. Schreber may have formed a phantasy that if he were a woman he
would manage the business of having children more successfully; and he may thus have found
his way back into the feminine attitude towards his father which he had exhibited in the earliest
years of his childhood. If that were so, then his delusion that as a result of his emasculation the
world was to be peopled with ‘a new race of men, born from the spirit of Schreber’ (288) - a
delusion the realization of which he was continually postponing to a more and more remote future
- would also be designed to offer him an escape from his childlessness. If the ‘little men’ whom
Schreber himself finds so puzzling were children, then we should have no difficulty in
understanding why they were collected in such great numbers on his head (158): they were in
truth the ‘children of his spirit’.

‘After my recovery from my first illness I spent eight years with my wife - years, upon the whole, of great
happiness, rich in outward honours, and only clouded from time to time by the oft-repeated disappointment of
our hope that we might be blessed with children.’ (36). He goes on from this remark, which preserves in his delusions the good-natured irony of his saner days, to trace back through former centuries the relations between the Flechsig and Schreber families. In just the same way a young man who is newly engaged, and cannot understand how he can have lived so many years without knowing the girl he is now in love with, will insist that he really made her acquaintance at some earlier time.

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