Louis Sass
Rutgers University, School of Psychology, USA

E-mail:lsass@rci.rutgers.edu

 

NERVES AND RAYS: DIALOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SCHREBER CASE

 

In my presentation, I will discuss the dialogical structure of the delusional world of Daniel Paul Schreber, the famous paranoid schizophrenic patient. Schreber's delusional system involves two kinds of entities that he refers to as the 'nerves' and the 'rays'. Close examination of his autobiographical account, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, reveals that these entities are, in fact, a kind of allegorical representation of the two aspects of his own divided and self-monitoring consciousness. Schreber offers an interesting and somewhat paradoxical example for dialogical psychology. At first it may seem that Schreber, with his seemingly bizarre delusions, represents the ultimate withdrawal from the interpersonal world. It can be shown, however, that his private world is actually a kind of inner allegory of a particular kind of interpersonal situation - one that has the structure of the Panopticon as described by Michel Foucault. The interaction of nerves and rays is, in fact, a kind of dialogue - albeit one that lacks symmetry and that has a peculiarly withdrawn or even autistic structure.

 

Sass, L. (1992). Madness and modernism. Insanity in the light of modern art, literature, and thought. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Sass, L. (1994). The paradoxes of delusion. Wittgenstein, Schreber and the schizophrenic mind. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.