moritz schreber

Images of Moritz Schreber’s “Geradehalter”, an orthopedic device designed to produce upright posture. Moritz Schreber’s son’s 1903 book Memoirs of My Nervous Illness [Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken] was the subject of a 1910 study by Freud. According to the American psychoanalyst William Niederland, Moritz “…brought to bear on the child a whole system of medical gymnastics, calisthenic exercises, orthopedic appliances, and other regulatory practices which he had invented” (quoted in Santner, 1996, p 63).

Daniel Paul Schreber writes:

The miracles enacted against the organs of the thoracic and abdominal cavities were very multifarious…. I… remember that I once had a different heart…. On the other hand my lungs were for a long time the object of violent and very threatening attacks…. At about the same time some of my ribs were sometimes temporarily smashed, always with the result that what had been destroyed was re-formed after a time. One of the most horrifying miracles was the so-called compression-of-the-chest-miracle, which I endured at least several dozen times; it consisted in the whole chest wall being compressed, so that the state of compression caused by the lack of breath was transmitted to my whole body…. I existed frequently without a stomach…. Of other internal organs I will only mention the gullet and the intestines, which were torn out or vanished repeatedly, further the pharynx, which I partly ate up several times, finally the seminal cord, against which very painful miracles were directed…. Those miracles always appeared most threatening to me which were in one way or another directed against my reason. These concerned firstly my head; secondly… also the spinal cord, which next to the head was considered as the seat of reason. One therefore attempted to pump the spinal cord out, which was done by so-called “little men” placed in my feet…. All my muscles were (and still are) the object of miracles for the purpose of preventing all movements and every occupation I am about to undertake…. My eyes and the muscles of the lids which serve to open and close them were an almost uninterrupted target for miracles…. Some of the “little devils” participated in a miracle which was often enacted against my head…. This was perhaps the most abominable of all the miracles - next to the compression-of-the-chest-miracle; the expression used for it if I remember correctly was “the head-compressing-machine.” In consequence of the many flights of rays, etc., there had appeared in my skull a deep cleft or rent roughly along the middle, which probably was not visible from outside but was from inside. The “little devils” stood on both sides of this cleft and compressed my head as though in a vice by turning a kind of screw, causing my head temporarily to assume an elongated almost pear-shaped form…. Manifold miracles were also directed against my skeleton, apart from those against my ribs and skull…. In the foot bones particularly in the region of the heel, caries was often caused by the miracle, causing me considerable pain…. A similar miracle was the so-called coccyx miracle. This was an extremely painful, caries-like state of the lowest vertebrae. Its purpose was to make sitting and even lying down impossible (quoted in Eric Santner, My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp 64-65).