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Osman, M.P. (2009). Listening to Schreber: Formulations Derived from an Analytic Close Reading of His Memoirs. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(4):631-664.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(4):631-664

Listening to Schreber: Formulations Derived from an Analytic Close Reading of His Memoirs

Marvin P. Osman, M.D.

The study of the Schreber case by Freud (1911) was based, of course, on the level of understanding that psychoanalysis had attained up to that time, stressing, as it did, concepts such as conflicts over libidinal drives and the inverted oedipal complex. It was Freud's contention that the precipitating cause of Schreber's illness was an inadmissible “outburst of homosexual libido.”1 Furthermore, Schreber's persecutory delusions concerning his psychiatrist, Professor Paul Flechsig, were manifestations of his defense against homosexual desires. Thus, the person he unconsciously desired as a lover now had become a persecutor. This originally circumscribed transference reaction subsequently became elaborated into a drama of cosmic proportions in which God himself became a protagonist. In sum, all of these developments were traced by Freud to conflicts over a libidinal attraction to the father.

A close reading of Schreber's (1903) Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, however, indicated to me that homosexual issues were not primary in the psychodynamics of Schreber's psychosis, but rather what was decisive was another factor—intense conflict over pursuit of his ambitions, particularly those stimulating masculine self-expression, experienced as inducing dangerous competition with current and past objects. In this paper I endeavor to corroborate the validity of this assessment, partly through quotations of Schreber's own words.

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