- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 488 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; Revised ed. edition (January 31, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 094032220X
- ISBN-13: 978-0940322202
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.3 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 31, 2000
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Daniel Paul Schreber began Memoirs of my Nervous Illness in February 1900 while confined in an asylum, as part of an appeal for release. Schreber, second son (the first committed suicide) of an abusive father, was at the peak of a brilliant career in Leipzig when he was appointed Presiding Judge of the Saxon High Court of Appeals. Alas, the stress of his new job proved too much for him, and before long he was hearing voices and feeling suicidal. Within weeks he was committed, having rapidly descended into madness, and was placed under the care of Dr. Paul Emil Flechsig. From the start, Schreber struggled to make sense of what he was seeing and hearing, and in fact Memoirs is so lucid and self-aware, so internally consistent and insightful, that he was released on its strength. Still, reading this man's prose is a lesson in subjective reality, by turns funny and terrifying.
I existed frequently without a stomach.... In the case of any other human being this would have resulted in natural pus formation with an inevitably fatal outcome; but the food pulp could not damage my body because all impure matter in it was soaked up again by the rays.As Christianity alone could not explain what seemed to be happening to him, Schreber pieced together a complex theology involving a divided God with dark and light incarnations, whose "rays" and "nerves" interacted in various ways with humans. God was also his personal tormentor, in league with Flechsig to commit "soul-murder" by manipulating his nerves. Further, Schreber believed that he was being literally "unmanned" so that God could sexually violate him and conceive a new human race: "But as soon as I am alone with God ... I must continually or at least at certain times strive to give divine rays the impression of a woman in the height of sexual delight..."
Schreber had a hard time believing in the "fleeting-improvised-men" who flitted in and out of his life, and grew convinced that he was the only human left in a world of shadows. But he did know that something was wrong. He would hear the birds in the asylum's garden ask him, over and over, "Are you not ashamed?" And he was aware that his bellowing, banging on the piano, and other bodily manifestations of God's manipulation of his nerves (or "miracles") were startling to others, to say the least. Many of Schreber's delusions had to do with escaping his body--the constant babble of thousands of voices in his head were infuriating, as was his inability to cease thinking:
The sound which reaches my own ear--hundreds of times every day--is so definite that it cannot be a hallucination. The genuine "cries of help" are always instantly followed by the phrase which has been learnt by rote: "If only the cursed cries of help would stop."Memoirs of My Nervous Illness succeeds on many levels: as a memoir, as imaginative literature, and as a serious work of mythology. Flechsig makes a menacing and inscrutable villain, representing materialistic thinking and conventional reality--no help at all. Schreber, meanwhile, is the classic hero, struggling to stay sane in a cruel and capricious universe. --Therese Littleton
Text: English, German --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
In this book, Schreber takes us into his world--the world of the genuine schizophrenic. He writes of the "little men" who come to invade his body and of the stars from which they came.
That these "little men" choose to invade Schreber's body in more ways than one only makes his story all the more harrowing. At night, he tells us, they would drip down onto his head by the thousands, although he warned them against approaching him.
Schreber's story is not the only thing that is disquieting about this book. His style of writing is, too. It is made up of the ravings of a madman, yet it contains a fluidity and lucidity that rival that of any "logical" person. It only takes a few pages before we become enmeshed in the strange smells, tastes, insights and visions he describes so vividly.
Much of this book is hallucinatory; for example, Schreber writes of how the sun follows him as he moves around the room, depending on the direction of his movements. And, although we know the sun was not following Schreber, his explanation makes sense, in an eerie sort of way.
What Schreber has really done is to capture the sheer poetry of insanity and madness in such a way that we, as his readers, feel ourselves being swept along with him into his world of fantasy. It is a world without anchors, a world where the human soul is simply left to drift and survive as best it can. Eventually, one begins to wonder if madness is contagious. Perhaps it is. The son of physician, Moritz Schreber, Schreber came from a family of "madmen," to a greater or lesser degree.
Memoirs of My Nervous Illness has definitely made Schreber one of the most well-known and quoted patients in the history of psychiatry...and with good reason. He had a mind that never let him live in peace and he chronicles its intensity perfectly. He also describes the fascinating point and counterpoint of his "inner dialogues," an internal voice that chattered constantly, forcing Schreber to construct elaborate schemes to either explain it or escape it. He tries suicide and when that fails, he attempts to turn himself into a diaphanous, floating woman.
Although no one is sure what madness really is, it is clear that for Schreber it was something he described as "compulsive thinking." This poor man's control center had simply lost control. The final vision we have of Schreber in this book is harrowing in its intensity and in its angst. Pacing, with the very sun paling before his gaze, this brilliant madman walked up and down his cell, talking to anyone who would listen.
This is a harrowing, but fascinating book and is definitely not for the faint of heart. Schreber describes man's inner life in as much detail as a Hamlet or a Ulysses. The most terrifying part is that in Schreber, we see a little of both ourselves and everyone we know.