Soul Murder and Iatrogenesis

The investigation of the truth surrounding the Screber case serves as a model for a revelation about a cultural norm elaborated by Aulagnier’s work surrounding the concept of “the violence of interpretation.” We must be at pains to elaborate the “facts” by listening to Schreber’s own words concerning his experience rather than the interpretations imposed on him by Flechsig, Freud and others. At the same time we must be careful not to allow the facts to simplistically support a ubiquitous “real” physical abuse of Schreber and other children put forward by Niederland, Schatzman, Shengold and others too quickly. This would be to make the same mistake as Masson and others concerning the supposed cover up by Freud of real sexual abuse. The point – made clear by Laplanche – is that seduction, abuse, or trauma is inevitable, whether real or imagined, and that the psychic apparatus in its ideal state – supported by certain familial, interpersonal, and/or therapeutic interaction traverses a journey of encounters which elaborate the birth of subjectivity and the expansion of the “I.” The soul murder is not in the original abusive event but in the violence of interpretation that murders the psyche’s ability to assimilate and transform the event for itself. In this sense our whole culture and especially the medical model continues to conspire in soul murder. This is why it is not surprising to find that “soul murder” was an actual medico-legal term from Schreber’s time refering to iatrogenesis – doctor-induced illness. The radical event of Freudian analysis was to reverse this process and listen to the patient, yet even most therapists and analysts still regress to the violence of interpretation through there transference to the theories and authorities which protect them.

Lacan’s work maps this journey of the subject between drive and the Other, and Aulagnier demonstrates how the total eclipse of the drive by the intrusion of the Other prevents the elaboration of the subject in psychosis. This violence by which the Other interprets the experience of the child is simply less complete in cases of neurosis or normality. In neurosis we thus speak of a divided subjectivity (between drive and Other) at odds with the currently accepted norm, whereas in any given cultural norm a certain moral and physiological “truth” dictates the object relations among its participants. Freud posed this issue in “Civilization and its Discontents” and Lacan again ran up against this problem of the dualistic impasse of either neurotic subjection to the symbolic order or psychotic foreclosure of it, before resolving it in his later work on the “sinthome.”


If Schreber is the most cited patient in medical history, then perhaps it is because he is a kind of “Imitation of Christ” for our times. If we listen to his words he says his problem is a nervous illness. Perhaps Schreber’s crisis is not the total foreclosure of the symbolic but an increasingly problematic confrontation with it which manifests as various symptoms – first as a nervous exhaustion and depression and later as so-called “hallucinations.” In many respects we could take Schreber at his word and recognize that his problem is more neurotic than psychotic. (Increasing practice with our times may show us how much this is a continuum rather than separate categories.) The refusal to be recognized as a master in his newest professional victory as well as the failure to become an actual father may have given rise to a kind of flight into hysteria with all the associated neurasthenic qualities in addition to the position of being a woman to God.

We could then pose a different scenario in which Schreber, after repeated confrontations with his father who spoke of the necessity to “break the will of the child at any cost,” after continuing to compete with other men in his chosen profession of judge, finally fails to be able to shoulder this burden of becoming master and judge of a high court. Unrecognized in his new town and unable to succeed in fathering children with his wife, he has a final breakdown in which he becomes one to be cared for. In terms of the dualistic model of psychosis or neurosis/normality this is certainly a failure of the name of the father. But is it possible that Schreber will turn his symptom into that of an enjoyment of what Deleuze and Guattari call “becoming-woman” – into an exploration of another way of being – not judge but judged, not master but servant, not carer but cared-for, not God but “a woman.”

In this approach, rather than assuming a symptom to be a lack of what should be, we assume the symptom to be a creation – albeit unconscious – of what needs to come to be. By listening to it and mapping it, we allow it to take its course and either fall by the wayside to make room for another becoming in the birth of the subject ,or see that it is in fact the birth of the subject in which it becomes consciously assumed and lived – communicated to others through semiotic means which deconstruct and reconstruct the rigid symbolic. This process which has been well described by Bergson, Bataille, Bion, and Eigen as the function of the mystic has so far operated in our times in the everyday life of the artist more than in that of the analyst and analysand.

Fear, Mysticism, and Analysis

This poses a new model for analysis, in which we really let go of the “violence of interpretation” in favor of a kind of psychoanalytic mysticism partially mapped out by Lacan, Bion, Eigen, and Phillips. He who accompanies the other on a journey of subjectivity along with its terrors and ecstasies requires courage and experience more than clever knowledge in the application of techniques.

Hallucination and Perception

Finally the relation between self and other, inside and outside, dreams, thoughts, hallucinations, perceptions, and sensations depends more on how we come to collectively construct reality out of the real. What has been at stake for so long is a micropolitics of desiring production. Who controls reality. Is it possible to collectively create in a model which honors both the relational aesthetic and the individual ethic of sovereignty. Let us find out.