Arcanes de la psychose Retour au texte de Schreber (Book Review)

Author:  Bolzinger, André
Publisher:  Éditions Campagne Première, 2005
Reviewed By:  Zvi Lothane, MD, Vol 26 (2), pp. 55-57

Three years ago the world celebrated the centenary of Paul Schreber's epochal Memoirs of a Nervous Patient, a book that inspired Freud and scores of contributors to a still growing secondary literature, reaffirming Schreber’s stature as the most famous—and the most infuential—patient in the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Like a book of the Bible, Schreber's 385 pages have given rise to a never-ending work of exegesis. The excavations into Schreber's life and work and their interpretation have become a multinational effort by generations of scholars from the United States, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and, last but not least, France (Jacques Lacan, Andrée Tabouret-Keller, Luis Eduardo Prado de Oliveira, Jacques Mervant, and others).

In addition to providing an interminable feast to commentators, the highly educated and polyglot Paul Schreber has been a well-spring for many theories. He moved Freud to publish in 1911 his theory of paranoia and homosexuality. He moved Jung to redefine the concept libido in 1912, and to create the anima/animus theory, and thus contributed to the historic break-up of Freud's and Jung's relationship. He popularized terms, e.g., soul murder, inspired the name of a journal (Scilicet), enriched concepts such as fragmentation of the mind in schizophrenia, first described by Otto Gross in 1904, and later adopted by Bleuler and by Melanie Klein. He was an impetus to Lacan's concept of jouissance and to gender theories of many Lacanians. Also, he taught lessons to philosophers and became a subject for dramas and operas. Not bad for someone considered to be the quintessential madman!

Reminding the reader of the four meanings for “memoirs” as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary: (1) memorandum, records and documents in diplomacy, and I would add, law; (2) an autobiographical account; (3) "a record of events, not purporting to be a complete history, but treating of such matters as come within the personal knowledge of the writer"; (4) "an essay or a dissertation on a learned subject on which the writer has made particular observations," what the French call "memoir à servir…" It was actually the French who elaborated this distinction between memoirs as an autobiographic confession and memoirs as detailing an author's experiences of objective historical processes. The tradition started with Joinville's life story of Louis the IX and as Froissart's Chronique to evolve into Philippe de Comine's Mémoires and later into the memoires of Marguerite de Valois and those of Brantôme. This development was late in Germany, where the classical example is Otto von Bismarck's 1899 Denkwürdigkeiten aus Briefen, Reden, und letzten Kundgebungen, sowie nach persönlichen Erinnerungen.

Schreber's Denkwürdigkeiten is a work that contains all four elements of writing. Thus, not only did Schreber offer a personal account of his illness between 1884 and 1893, which rendered him unable to love and work, but he also bore witness to contemporary developments in psychiatry: the rise of academic soulless brain psychiatry and coercive, equally soulless and often inhumane institutional psychiatry. By 1893, neither of these institutions was able any longer to offer the much-needed psychological help to alleviate Schreber's personal suffering and conflicts nor to restore his ability to function. Instead both Flechsig and Weber condemned him to nine long years of psychiatric imprisonment, a fact that in France only Maud Mannoni took into account. Countless commentators have falsely reduced his Memoirs to a mere clinical chart of his illness, which it is not; herein lies the danger of misunderstanding Paul Schreber as a person, of transforming interpretive fictions into facts (Lothane, 2005).

Now, Dr. André Bolzinger, a prominent French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, also fluent in German, who has already published important contributions on the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, has given us the first full-scale monograph on Schreber in French. It includes material from the author's previous articles in the literature. It is a splendid book, written with humor and wisdom and élan. I am honored to review the work of a fellow-Schreberian, whom I first met during a weeklong Colloque Schreber held at Cérisy-la-Salle, in 1993, which resulted in an edited book of essays, Schreber Revisité (Lothane, 1998a).

Bolzinger provides a wide historical descriptive and interpretive panorama and divides his book into three parts (livres): I. Freud et Lacan initiateurs, a first glimpse into the commentaries by Freud and, as we call him in the USA, the 'French Freud'; II. Lire (avec) Schreber: more from Lacan and on Schreber's literary style and his use of language, with notes on Schreber's external history; III. Panorama de publications: Schreber à Paris: comments on a selection of books and articles about Schreber. As a result of his labors Schreber begins to emerge as a person and as an author with a message and a style; and as Buffon noted, le style c'est l'homme.
Whatever else psychiatry and psychoanalysis have been since the emergence of the former two centuries ago and of the latter one century ago, or want to be today or in the future, one thing is beyond debate: they include talking and thinking. While psychoanalysis is all talk, psychiatry mixes talking and taking drugs. Initially Flechsig developed a particular eloquence, but about the new drugs which would cure Schreber quickly and effectively. His assistant Teuscher treated the patient with talk therapy on one occasion. During the long years of imprisonment in Sonnestein nobody talked to Schreber, maybe a few times somebody talked at him. He lived in isolation: for two and a half years he was locked up nightly in a dark and windowless isolation cell. Thus, he mainly talked to himself and to his "innere Stimmen" (voices), as he called them, and to God.

One day in 1897, he woke up mentally and started writing. The various scattered notes and diaries finally coalesced into the 385 printed pages, minus elisions. The content of the writing was a post hoc recreation from memory as to what had happened to him from the summer of 1893 on, the intent of the writing was a legal defense, a personal vindication as well as an attempt to explain to his uneducated wife, who played a crucial role in his incarceration and imposition of guardianship, some of the outer and inner realities of his life that resulted in his complex personal religion. He was addressing the judges who would try his incompetency case in the very same Oberlandesgericht on which he had served for only six weeks, and to his future readers. The judges were the only people who listened to him, heard him, accepted his own appeal, based on his Berufungsbegründung and his essay on forensic psychiatry, whose title became the subtitle of the Denkwürdigkeiten, and gave him back his freedom on Bastille Day in 1902. They also made the case an important legal precedent.

Who has the authority to interpret Schreber? What is the truth about Schreber, the facts of his life and the fidelity with which he, the author, presented them? The first authority, of course, remains Schreber himself: he, too, was an interpreter. The first other to interpret Schreber was the Austrian psychiatrist Otto Gross in 1904; Freud was the second Austrian to do so in 1911. The first interpretations, and the preponderance of all that followed, have been nomothetic and synchronic, i.e., based on preformed generalizations and formulas, the preponderant trend. In 1955, the German psychoanalyst, Baumeyer inaugurated the historical, biographic, or diachronic, research of Paul Schreber and interpretations based on that biography, a much smaller endeavor. Another interpretive trend has been to trace Schreber's glosses on various books he read to get to the meanings he intended, about which there is prolific literature. Bolzinger offers a generous review of all these interpretive modalities but tends more towards the nomothetic mode.

Bolzinger proposes a third approach to Schreber: the method of a literary analysis of a text, a book about a book, an exercise in reading employing the available literary means to achieve such an end. It is the method employed by literary criticism that attempts to penetrate either the mysteries of a book or its author; also, it may be likened to a modern musician interpreting a 19th century score, or a modern director staging a 19th century play. Bolzinger's meticulous analysis of Schreber's style, the verbal habits and quirks, the literary allusions, is a tour de force. He might have said, that Schreber made his own contribution to linguistics. Leipzig University was an arena not only for Schreber but for such other word craftsmen as Friedrich Nietzsche in 1869, and Ferdinand de Saussure in 1878, and his "mémoire de Leipzig" (footnote, 2p. 153), the father of the epochal distinction between "langue (Sprache) et parole (Rede) (p. 153). True to Schreber and to the esprit gaulois, to the word magic of Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarmé and Paul Valéry, Bolzinger is enamoured of words, of rhetoric, prosody, of eloquence. He is exquisitely attuned to Schreber's "inflexions d'une élocution délibérée," his "assonance et le rhythme prosodique," his "equivalence homophonique" (p. 19), "le flux sonore," (p. 74), "le mirage sonore des Voix" (p. 76).

So great is his love of words that he does not discuss Schreber's visions, his visual hallucinations, important both from the descriptive and nosological point of view. On the other hand, the so-called "hallucination verbale," a "trouble langagier" (p. 45)—what the Germans call Gedankenlautwerden, is a matter of thoughts and words, all this torrent of "Stimmen and Stimmengerede," a "délire d'interpretation," again a matter of thoughts and words, quod erat demonstrandum. As a monad, claims Bolzinger, Schreber "vivait dans une bulle langagière" (p. 43). Bolzinger further affirms that Schreber is not "a romancier; le rédacteur n'a pas fait oeuvre d'imagination" (p. 77), because he was essentially a "raisonneur," ill with folie raisonnante. Here I respectfully but strongly disagree: Schreber was not an impersonal vehicle for words, like those famous miracled-up birds, the "gewunderte Vögel," reciting words without understanding them, not just a manifestation of a de Clérambeauldian "automatisme mental," Schreber's words were meaningful speeches, words addressed to hearers, as were his literary allusions, structured both consciously and unconsciously. Imagination, as a unification of thought, metaphor, symbol, and emotions, is central to understanding of Schreber as person and author.

One of the most telling examples is Schreber's imaginative allusion, at a point of acute despair in the first half year after being thrown into the snake pit Sonnenstein, when he recalls that while still in Flechsig's hospital, he played on the piano the aria Ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebt from Handel's Messiah, at the suggestion of his wife. These words of hope amidst despair are from the Book of Job 19:25, 26: "I know that my Redeemer liveth … and though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh I shall see God." Bolzinger comments: "C'est tout. Pas de commentaire" (p. 82). However, the commentaire was there, but not made fully explicit by Schreber, for he was alluding to a text that would be known to an educated person of his time, as with the quote from Goethe that follows. On his own showing, Bolzinger makes reference to Job, quoting Lothane (p. 97). As noted by Bolzinger himself, Schreber identified with Goethe. But it goes much further. Schreber not only imitated Goethe’s magical realism, not only strongly identified with the innocent Job upon whom God visited various punishments at the instigation of Satan, but he also used Goethe’s transformation of the Job legend in Faust. Like Satan before, Mephistopheles-Flechsig seduced God to punish innocent Schreber (Lothane, 1998b), for the Devil, God's fallen angel, as Schreber quotes, with a slight mistake, on his page 145 “das Dichterwort von den Auesserungen jener Kraft ‘die stets das Böse will und doch das Gute schafft’” (emphasis added).

Schreber's peculiar and personal Redensarten, or schreberisms, were playfully adopted in the correspondence between Sigmund Freud and his crown prince Carl Jung, with the exception of one: soul murder was no neologism. Lacan claimed it was a grievous error that Bolzinger seems to endorse. Soul murder was a legal concept in the first half of the 19th century and it meant medical malpractice, which Schreber made use of in thus accusing Flechsig directly, in his Open Letter, but only after he left Sonnenstein, and Weber indirectly (by the way, Bolzinger does not mention Anstaltsdirektor Guido Weber). In the end, Schreber was able to declare that "aller Unsinn hebt sich auf," all nonsense is conquered by sense. He distanced himself from his previous wild imaginings, left Sonnenstein to live in peace with the world, wife, adopted daughter Fridoline, and himself for the next five years, until the last illness in 1907, which ended his life.

Bolzinger is the only author who paid special attention to Schreber's guillemets, in which Schreber put the words revealed to him by the rays, that is God himself. Actually, those quotation marks are a testimony to Schreber's basic sanity in an insane world, as expressed in Pascal's famous pensée, with which Bolzinger ends his fascinating and multifaceted book. The book deserves to be widely read and discussed.

References

Lothane, Z. (1998a). Pour la défense de Schreber: meurtre d’âme et psychiatrie. In: D. Devreese, Z. Lothane, & J. Schotte (réd.), Schreber Revisité (series “Figures of the Unconscious: hors série”). Louvain: Presses Universitaires de Louvain, pp. 11-29.
Lothane, Z. (1998b). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sigmund Freud, and Paul Schreber --themes in metamorphosis. In: Marchioro, Francesco, Herausgeber, Il divano l'immaginario la cura Der Divan das Imaginäre Die Behandlung. Bolzano: Ricerche-IMAGO-Forschung, pp. 67-86.
Lothane, Z. (2005). Daniel Paul Schreber on his own terms, or how interpretive fictions are converted into historical facts. In: Holger Steinberg (Hrsg.), Leipziger Psychiatriegeschichtliche Vorlesungen. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, pp. 129-156.

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