Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
My Own Private Germany

My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber's Secret History of Modernity

Eric L. Santner
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 214
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    My Own Private Germany
    Book Description:

    In November 1893, Daniel Paul Schreber, recently named presiding judge of the Saxon Supreme Court, was on the verge of a psychotic breakdown and entered a Leipzig psychiatric clinic. He would spend the rest of the nineteenth century in mental institutions. Once released, he published hisMemoirs of My Nervous Illness(1903), a harrowing account of real and delusional persecution, political intrigue, and states of sexual ecstasy as God's private concubine. Freud's famous case study of Schreber elevated theMemoirsinto the most important psychiatric textbook of paranoia. In light of Eric Santner's analysis, Schreber's text becomes legible as a sort of "nerve bible" offin-de-sièclepreoccupations and obsessions, an archive of the very phantasms that would, after the traumas of war, revolution, and the end of empire, coalesce into the core elements of National Socialist ideology.

    The crucial theoretical notion that allows Santner to pass from the "private" domain of psychotic disturbances to the "public" domain of the ideological and political genesis of Nazism is the "crisis of investiture." Schreber's breakdown was precipitated by a malfunction in the rites and procedures through which an individual is endowed with a new social status: his condition became acute just as he was named to a position of ultimate symbolic authority. TheMemoirssuggest that we cross the threshold of modernity into a pervasive atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty when acts of symbolic investiture no longer usefully transform the subject's self understanding. At such a juncture, the performative force of these rites of institution may assume the shape of a demonic persecutor, some "other" who threatens our borders and our treasures. Challenging other political readings of Schreber, Santner denies that Schreber's delusional system--his own private Germany--actually prefigured the totalitarian solution to this defining structural crisis of modernity. Instead, Santner shows how this tragic figure succeeded in avoiding the totalitarian temptation by way of his own series of perverse identifications, above all with women and Jews.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2189-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-18)

    DANIEL PAUL SCHREBER was born in Leipzig on July 25, 1842, the third of five children born to Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber and Pauline Schreber née Haase. The Schreber name is now known in Germany primarily for the small garden plots—Schrebergärten—that dot the perimeters of German cities and which were named after Moritz Schreber, whose numerous writings on public health, child rearing, and the benefits of fresh air and exercise inspired the institution of these gardens in the late nineteenth century. More recently, Moritz Schreber has become demonized as the sadistic paterfamilias whose pedagogic practices and orthopedic devices...

    (pp. 19-62)

    PSYCHOANALYSTS have long known about the transferential dimension of literary production, about the ways in which texts provide opportunities for their writers to act out or, ideally, work through, some of the very issues animating the subject matter of the text. This insight applies as much to the texts produced by psychoanalysts as by any other group of writers. And, indeed, Sigmund Freud, who founded psychoanalysis to a large extent on the basis of his own self-analysis, was profoundly aware of this transferential dimension of his own literary production. As it turns out, with regard to the text of concern...

    (pp. 63-102)

    SINCE the publication of Freud’s essay, much of the literature on Schreber has focused on efforts to flesh out the historical and biographical details surrounding Schreber’s breakdown, to establish the referential dimension of the “surplus father” whose intrusive presence Schreber most often names “Flechsig” and which he ultimately makes responsible for the degeneration of the Order of the World. These efforts begin, in a sense, with Freud’s own disclaimer regarding such concrete historical knowledge. Toward the end of the second part of his essay, just at the moment when he announces triumphantly that his analysis has found its way to...

    (pp. 103-146)

    IN THE PAGES of Schreber’sMemoirsone finds numerous references and allusions to historical events, circumstances, and figures in Wilhelmine Germany and in European culture and society more generally. One cluster of references to contemporary political life that attracted the early notice of commentators attentive to the historical context of Schreber’s delusions centers on Bismarck’s struggles with the Catholic Church in the 1870s, the so-called Kulturkampf. Bismarck’s antipapal campaign, aggressively supported by the liberal parties and designed, in large measure, to limit the power of the (Catholic) Centrist Party, resulted in, among other things, the institution of civil marriage in...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 147-192)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 193-200)