Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

by Daniel Paul Schreber

In 1884, the distinguished German jurist Daniel Paul Schreber suffered the first of a series of mental collapses that would afflict him for the rest of his life.

There was only one remedy; as his doctor noted: Schreber "considered himself chosen to redeem the world, and to restore to it the lost state of Bedness.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Psychology
  • Rating: 4.11
  • Pages: 455
  • Publish Date: January 31st 2000 by NYRB Classics
  • Isbn10: 094032220X
  • Isbn13: 9780940322202

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These memoirs were meant to explain his illness to his wife, any legal authority in charge of his release, but also himself. There is a glossary of terms which Schreber uses to describe his delusions, reference lists, and the legal documents around his own case. One especially interesting example is Schreber's own legal defense, written in a period of lucidity, allowing himself to be released with supervision due to 'harmless insanity', a precedent for treatment of other forms of mental illness. I can add very little, as I am not in any sense qualified in psychology. Schreber is a sick man, but he is by no means a dumb or stupid one, certainly not worthless as he feels. Perhaps, in some ironic way, one of his nervous delusions was right, and the idea of Schreber will live on long after him.

If Schreber had had a youtube channel he'd be running the world right now.

this book is pretty good if you have an interest in severe mental illness. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, republished by New York Review Books, is his account of those events and written with full confidence in the truth of his visions. He argues with the sun and receives messages from birds; voices shout at him constantly, as God, hoping to sever contact with Schreber, tries to make him completely demented.

It was alas not by way of Freud that I first came across the legendary Judge Schreber, perhaps history's most analyzed psychotic, but rather, being the dissolute young connoisseur of radical theoretical guerilla action that I once was, through Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari's ANTI-OEDIPUS: CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA. If ANTI-OEDIPUS is distinguished by its unstinting assault on Freud's persistence in territorializing the delusional psyche around a regimented system of entrenched clinicized mythology (especially the daddy-mommy-me assemblage at the heart of the Oedipus complex), some of us who have read the CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA books will be reminded by Rosemary Dinnage, in her introduction to the New York Review Books edition of Schreber's MEMOIRS OF MY NERVOUS ILLNESS, that Deleuze and Guattari nevertheless continue to operate in debt to Freud: it was the father of psychoanalysis who first introduced the idea of "Wahnbildungsarbeit," which essentially imparts the principle of an active process at the heart of the "work of delusion-formation" allowing the psychotic person to integrate delusion into an overarching picture of the world. Imagine my surprise now at having finally gotten around to MEMOIRS OF MY NERVOUS ILLNESS and discovering that among the prodigious inventory of marvels on display nary a single instance of rays emerging from the judge's posterior is to be accounted for, though the poor man is indeed endlessly assailed by said rays. Perhaps Deleuze and Guattari got the memoirs mixed up with Georges Bataille, who did indeed write a marvelous essay entitled "The Solar Anus." It seems to me to bear noting, probably because I very recently read it, that MEMOIRS OF MY NERVOUS ILLNESS also has some points of curious intersection with Bataille's essay "Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh." Van Gogh also spent time in Asylums, occasionally extremely far gone, and suffered a tormented, obsessive relationship with the sun. When I read the CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA books as a young man I had no firsthand experience of psychosis. I do, however, know what it is like to hear voices and completely believe in their realness. Here is a list of terms the voices habitually utilized: The Order of the World, nerve-contact, nerve-language, soul-language, soul murder, soul-voluptuousness, the Eternal Jew, unmanning, rays, forecourts of heaven, fleeting-improvised-men, little men (hundreds if not thousands of "little men" a few millimetres in height living briefly on Schreber's head and later in his body), the seer of spirits, Prince of Hell, Divine Judgment, the cursed play-with-human-beings, new human beings out of Schrebers spirit, tying-to-celestial-bodies, writing-down-system, listening-in-thought, the cursed creation-of-a-false-feeling, the head-compressing-machine miracle, the so-what-party, the bellowing-miracle, the cries of help, birds created by miracle, the capacity to answer at first sight, spontaneous generation, frightening miracle, automatic-remembering-thought. At his most unwell Schreber believed that The Order of the World was so utterly in a state of abject strife that no living humans currently occupied it save himself, and that all people with whom he communicated were fleeting-improvised. Schreber believed himself in contact with God. At all times. Especially, it would seem, the soul of Flechsig, the man who happened to oversee the first of the Asylums where Schreber found himself constrained, and who could mess with the judge without necessarily having to be in the same room.

I read it in bed because, for its size, it's immensely pick-up-able.

Memoirs is simultaneously one of the most amazing books I've ever read and one of the most grueling feats of mental fortitude I've ever subjected myself to.