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MEMOIRS OF MY NERVOUS ILLNESS

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Daniel Paul Schreber had a genius for insanity.
  In 1893, after having served as a judge, he fell ill at the age of 51. Diagnosed as a paranoiac, he spent the next seven years in an asylum, early on mute before the assaults of his hallucinations and only gradually returning to speech with revelations of his bizarre and overwhelming religious experiences. 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. Schreber's problem was God. As his visions showed him, God was a vast net of nerve fibers, all taken from the human corpses, cleansed and raised to blessedness. But sometime in the past, one of these nervous souls committed soul murder and the result upset the Order of the World, causing his own ailment. He believed himself to be unique in the history of the earth in exerting an unnatural attraction upon God, whose rays reached down from the stars to lodge themselves in his body. The more they did so, the more feminized he became. And the more female he became, the more he had to worry that God intended to change his sex altogether, then humiliate and rape him, so he could give birth to a new race. 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. God "did not really understand the living human being and had no need to understand him, because, according to the Order of the World, He dealt only with corpses." God perpetually afflicts Schreber, pouring corpse juice into his brain, and much as he realizes the absurdity of saying it, Schreber must admit that everything that happens is in reference to him, from the insects that pester him when he closes his eyes to the "bellowing-miracle" which explodes his fits of soul-voluptuousness. He writes rationally and clearly, taking dictation from the voices in his head: "Bad news came in from all sides that even this or that star or group of stars had to be 'given up'; at one time it was said that even Venus had been 'flooded,' at another that the whole solar system would now have to be 'disconnected,' that the Cassopeia (the whole group of stars) had had to be drawn together into a single sun, that perhaps only the Pleiades could still be saved. . . ." One of his doctors figures as an especially malevolent presence, perhaps the original soul murderer, in any case now a diabolical figure trying to wrest souls from God to gain power, while poor Schreber gets in the way. The world he constructs is coherent and gloriously imaginative, sometimes beautiful and often horrifying. It is a madness which has long struggled with and finally found its voice.
Last Updated on Friday, 29 July 2005 20:57  


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