Corps de l’article

Um!—have I been German all this time, when I thought myself oriental? [1]

Byron, Journal

Although Sigmund Freud has been and remains an unsettlingly suggestive guide to English romantic poetry, he said little about actual English works from the Romantic period—with one exception. In his "Psychoanalytic Notes Upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)" (1911), his analysis of Daniel Paul Schreber's Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, he discusses in some detail Byron's closet drama Manfred. In this essay, I will examine why Freud's most extended discussion of an English romantic text appears in his most detailed, subtle treatment of the origins of male homosexual desire.

Freud was a longtime admirer of Byron. His letter to Theodor Reik of November 18, 1929, is revealing. He asks Reik about the source of an English quotation that he remembers but cannot place:

Where I could have picked it up remains a mystery, for it is hardly likely to be of my own coining. Since, besides Shakespeare, I used to read only Milton and Byron of the English poets, there is still the possibility that it might be found in Byron.[2]

Shakespeare, Milton, and Byron form Freud's trinity of the English poets that he admits to knowing well. He would have read Byron in his five-volume 1842 Tauchnitz edition of Byron's works, now in the London Freud Museum.[3]

This was, for the 1840s, a relatively complete edition of Byron, though a somewhat bare one: it included none of Byron's notes and none of the biographical information that often accompanied other editions. Its sole embellishment was a plate at the beginning of each volume. Yet Freud seems to have known it well. In 1883, writing to his fiancée Martha Bernays, he quoted the four lines from Burns that Byron used as an epigraph to The Bride of Abydos, and noted that Byron had cited them.[4]The Bride of Abydos is the first poem in volume three of the Tauchnitz edition, so the quotation from Burns is the first item that a reader encounters. This physical placement may have helped Freud to remember it.

Other passages in Freud's letters indicate his further interest in Byron. In 1894, he promised to send his sister-in-law Minna a copy of Byron's works; during his travels in Italy in 1896, he stayed at the Hotel Byron in Ravenna and noted to Martha that Byron had lived in the town for two years.[5] When he visited the National Portrait Gallery in London, he made sure to see Byron's famous portrait in Albanian garb and commented drily, "Byron obviously took care dressing himself up."[6] While Byron certainly does not bulk as large in Freud's work as major German writers, there is considerable evidence that Freud knew Byron well.

Given Freud's interest in Byron, the fact that Schreber mentioned Byron in his Memoirs may have been a small factor in encouraging Freud to write about Schreber's case, since he went out of his way to discuss Schreber's very brief mention of Byron. Indeed, Freud had more to say about Byron than he could quite fit in his analysis, and it is unfortunate that he never wrote more on Byron. Yet in this one essay, he showed himself a careful reader of Byron and of Manfred in particular. Schreber and Freud joined a long line of distinguished German fans of Manfred, including Goethe, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and Friedrich Nietzsche. As Cedric Hentschel has shown, nineteenth-century German Byronic literature manifests "an obsessive preoccupation with the figure of Manfred," and Freud may have known that he was commenting on a Byronic text to which German writers for almost a century had had a special relationship.[7]

For all Freud's Byronic enthusiasm, however, Manfred, at least as used by Schreber, turns out to be unexpectedly baffling. We might expect that Manfred would fit easily into Freud's system, especially in light of the fine Freudian analyses that later critics have given of the play.[8] Yet Byron challenges Freud because narcissism in Manfred does not work the way Freud wants it to. For Byron, narcissism and sexuality are not yet fused: in Manfred, it is possible to have one without the other. For Freud, however, no separation exists: narcissism is where desire starts. What it means to have a sexuality, consequently, differs markedly in the two writers. Freud's most permanent contribution to contemporary thought was ensuring that one would have a sexuality in the same way that one would have memory or imagination. For Byron, it seems less that Manfred has a sexuality than that sexual desire and remorse haunt him as forces external to the self that threaten to possess it. The result is that Byron can imagine what a post-Freudian interpretive framework finds untenable: a self that reaches a time after sexuality, as if sexuality could at last be shed if the ego worked hard enough. Although Freud considered such a possibility early in his career, he soon abandoned it in favor of his belief that narcissism binds the ego to the libido. For Freud, Byron's representation of desire challenged his insistence on the libido's omnipotence.

The occasion for Freud's vexed discussion of Manfred is the appearance in Schreber's unorthodox theology of the Zoroastrian deity Arimanes, who, as Schreber notes, also has a role in Byron's play. Schreber's Memoirs elaborately subdivides his version of God into different parts. He splits the "posterior" part of God into a lower God (Ariman) and an upper God (Ormuzd). In the first chapter of his Memoirs, when he introduces Ariman, he adds in a footnote that "the name Ariman occurs by the way in Lord Byron's Manfred in connection with a soul murder."[9] In the section of Freud's essay outlining Schreber's delusions, Freud cues his reader to this footnote: "A passage in Byron's Manfred may have determined Schreber's choice of the names of Persian divinities. We shall later come upon further evidence of the influence of this poem upon his mind."[10] Freud pumps up anticipation and even suspense around the appearance of his more complete discussion of Byron's poem. Far from dismissing Schreber's allusion, he goes out of his way to draw attention to Byron's significance for his analysis.

As Freud promises, more about Manfred appears in his essay's next section, "Attempts at Interpretation." He describes two paranoid components of Schreber's delusions: the first is the nightmare of being transformed into a woman so that Schreber can be sexually abused, and the second is soul murder. According to Freud, exactly what Schreber means by soul murder is unclear since the publisher censored the parts of Schreber's Memoirs where he seems to have discussed it in most detail. However, Freud points to "a single thread" that "takes us a little way further" in understanding exactly what soul murder is supposed to be:

Schreber illustrates the nature of soul-murder by referring to the legends embodied in Goethe's Faust, Byron's Manfred, Weber's Freischütz, etc. (p. 22), and one of the instances is further cited in another passage. In discussing the division of God into two persons, Schreber identifies his "lower God" and "upper God" with Ahriman and Ormuzd respectively (p. 19); and a little later a casual footnote occurs: "Moreover, the name of Ahriman also appears in connection with a soul-murder in, for example, Lord Byron's Manfred" (p. 20). In the play which is thus referred to there is scarcely anything comparable to the bartering of Faust's soul, and I have searched it in vain for the expression "soul-murder." But the essence and the secret of the whole work lies in—an incestuous relation between a brother and a sister. And here our thread breaks off short.[11]

p. 120

Schreber himself nowhere mentions sibling incest in Manfred; instead, he links Arimanes in the play to what he calls soul-murder. Freud, however, sails past what Schreber finds in Manfred (Arimanes and soul-murder) in favor of what he finds far more interesting: the centrality of sibling incest.

Although Freud ends his paragraph by claiming that the thread about sibling incest and Manfred "breaks off," he actually continues his discussion of Byron in a footnote:

By way of substantiating the above assertion [that soul murder does not appear in Manfred] I will quote a passage from the last scene of the play, in which Manfred says to the demon who has come to fetch him away:

                             " . . . my past power

Was purchased by no compact with thy crew."

There is thus a direct contradiction of a soul having been bartered. This mistake on Schreber's part was probably not without its purpose.[12]

p. 120

Freud's footnote then goes on, not by describing the purpose of the "mistake on Schreber's part," as he leads us to expect, but by connecting sibling incest in Manfred and Cain to "the incestuous relations which have repeatedly been asserted to exist between the poet and his half-sister" (p. 120).[13] Freud must have known not only Byron's biography but also its critical reception after such works as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Lady Byron Vindicated, which broadcasted incest's centrality to his poetry.

All in all, Freud goes out of his way to take seriously Schreber's use of Manfred. He reads Manfred with almost fussy precision. He quotes accurately in English from the original, presumably from his 1842 edition, where Manfred's words appear exactly as he cites them.[14] He describes the action of the scene correctly, and he asserts truly that the phrase "soul murder" nowhere appears in the play. As a result, he trumps Schreber footnote for footnote: where Schreber introduces Arimanes and Byron's Manfred in a footnote, Freud counter-footnotes to prove that Schreber's footnote to Manfred is ultimately a misreading. Part of his will to interpretive mastery over Schreber depends on proving that he has a better grasp of Byron than his patient does.

Previous critics have not found anything unusual in Freud's treatment of Manfred. Eric Santner, for example, reads Freud's commentary on Schreber's Byron as an important revelation: "Freud's crucial point here is that soul murder is connected with incest; Flechsig-as-soul-murderer becomes a figure of incestuous enjoyment. The surplus of power/influence that Schreber sees as emanating first from Flechsig and then from God is thereby linked to that most powerful and primordial of transgressive stains on the 'lawful' structure of kinship relations."[15] For Santner, Freud, in trying to understand what Schreber means by soul murder, turns to Byron's Manfred and discovers not what Schreber actually calls soul murder, but sibling incest instead. Freud gets from this discovery, according to Santner, a firm link between soul murder and transgressive sex, a link not obvious from Schreber's own discussions of soul murder. Freud then uses this link to make his larger case that Schreber's idea of soul murder masks his outbreak not so much of incest but of another form of transgressive sexuality: homosexual desire. According to Freud, soul murder rescripts Schreber's repressed longing for sex with men.

Yet Santner may preserve the integrity of Freud's interpretive system at the expense of examining Freud's actual words. I would argue that Freud foregrounds not the neatness with which Byron's text fits his analysis but his bafflement in the face of Byron's drama and Schreber's use of it. Although Santner claims that Freud is making a "crucial point" by addressing incest in Manfred, Freud himself does not seem so sure. He treats incest more like a dead end than like a key revelation. Announcing that he will reveal the "essence and secret" of Manfred, he even puts a dash in his sentence to heighten the suspense. But, having pulled the rabbit out of the hat—"an incestuous relation between a brother and a sister" ("Geschwisterinzest")—he does not know where to go next. Instead of linking incest to soul murder in more detail, he simply says, "And here our thread breaks off short" ("Hier reißt der kurze Faden weider ab"). The thread that he was following to understand soul murder leads to an answer, but he is not sure what to do with it once he has it.

Freud's interpretive mastery over Schreber in claiming that he has understood Manfred better than his patient conflicts with his frustration at not being able to put his literary criticism to better use. In the rest of his analysis of Schreber, incest has no role: Freud concentrates instead on repressed homosexuality. While it is certainly possible to draw psychoanalytic links between incest and homosexuality, Freud does not pursue them in this essay. Instead, the bald castration image of the thread breaking off immediately undercuts his triumphant, even teasing declaration of the importance of sibling incest in Manfred. Freud backtracks on the interpretive authority that he usually loves to assert.

Freud's will to interpretive mastery has other strange consequences as well. Focusing on sibling incest in Manfred, he spends no time looking at Arimanes, the figure with whom Schreber is most concerned. The possibility that Manfred's relation to Arimanes in Byron's play might be a revealing model for Schreber's relation to Ariman never makes it to Freud's analysis. Insofar as Freud does mention Arimanes, he seems to mistake what Schreber is claiming about Byron's use of the character. All that Schreber says about Arimanes is that the name appears "in connection with a soul-murder [in Zusammenhang mit einem Seelenmord]" in Byron's Manfred. He does not say that Arimanes commits soul-murder against Manfred or any other character, nor does he maintain that the phrase "soul murder" appears in the play. Yet Freud argues that Schreber has misread Manfred because he does not find "soul murder" in Byron, although Schreber never claimed that Byron used it.

Moreover, although Freud accuses Schreber of a mistake because he does not find anything in Manfred that would count, in his eyes, as a soul murder against the hero, what Freud and Schreber understand by soul murder differs. For Schreber a soul murder means that "it is somehow possible to take possession of another person's soul in order to prolong one's life at another soul's expense, or to secure some other advantages which outlast death" (p. 33).[16] For Schreber, attempted soul murder requires an assumed struggle between two souls, in which one soul is striving to possess the other. As such, Schreber is right that potential soul murder appears in Manfred because Manfred constantly confronts others who would like to dominate him. Especially in the scene with Arimanes (II.iv), Manfred is frequently urged to submit himself to Arimanes: "Bow down and worship, slave!" (II.iv.32), "Prostrate thyself, and thy condemned clay" (II.iv. 34), "Dost thou dare / Refuse to Arimanes on his throne / What the whole earth accords . . . Crouch! I say" (II.iv.42-45).[17] Such exhortations to humiliation and abasement seem to be what Schreber generally is recalling as "soul murder" in the play and Arimanes' connection with it.

Freud's understanding of soul murder differs from Schreber's because he takes what Schreber provides only as an example—bartering one's soul with the devil—as the absolute definition of soul murder. After having given his general definition of soul murder, Schreber lists some literary examples, including Byron's Manfred, and notes that in the most common understanding of soul murder, "the main role is supposed to be played by the Devil, who entices a human being into selling his soul to him by means of a drop of blood, etc. for some worldly advantages" (p. 34).[18] Schreber does not limit soul murder to bargains with the devil: he simply suggests that most readers will know this example. Freud, however, ignores Schreber's general definition of soul murder and concentrates only on his example of dealings with the devil. Consequently, he is frustrated with Manfred and with Schreber because he finds no evidence that Manfred enters into a Faustian deal, and even quotes Manfred's speech to prove that one never took place. Yet, in Schreber's defense, one might counter by noting that Schreber never claims that Manfred actually sold his soul to Arimanes or his minions; he only says that the idea of soul-murder was raised in relation to them. Freud, looking for a moment in which Manfred sells his soul, does not find one and therefore claims that Schreber has made a "mistake," one that, he adds, is "not without significance" ("nicht tendenzlos"). But it would be equally possible to argue that Freud, not Schreber, makes the mistake by ascribing to Schreber claims about soul murder in Manfred that Schreber does not make. Byron's play offers abundant evidence to back up Schreber's claim and to render Freud's concerted attempt to undermine Schreber's authority even more puzzling.

Freud's mistakes about Schreber's use of Byron and more general frustration with Manfred should not be dismissed simply as the products of carelessness or interpretive incompetence. Rather, I will argue that they are overdetermined by Freud's defensive reaction to sexuality in Byron and Schreber. To clarify just what I think Freud is reacting against, I will consider in some detail what Ariman means for Schreber and what he owes to Byron and Byron's Arimanes.

Of all the aspects of Manfred that Schreber could have noted, Arimanes seems to be one of the most unlikely. The character appears in one scene of the whole play and speaks five words. From the play's first publication, his appearance has struck readers as absurd: why has this Persian deity taken up residence in the Alps, surrounded by what Thomas Peacock mockingly called a "heterogeneous mythological company"?[19] In terms of the play's plot, his actions are two: to oversee the abuse of Manfred by his attendant spirits and to enable Manfred to meet the Phantom of Astarte. After Arimanes summons the phantom, Manfred wishes to speak to her, but getting her to talk proves unexpectedly difficult. Manfred appeals first to Nemesis, who tries vainly to make her speak, and then to Arimanes himself. Arimanes's command, "Spirit—obey this sceptre!" (II.iv.114), proves sadly ineffective, creating one of the many moments in Manfred that teeter between farce and high seriousness. Arimanes's failure cues Manfred for his monologue imploring Astarte to speak to him, which at last leads the phantom to predict that Manfred will die tomorrow.

One might argue, given Arimanes's small role in Manfred, that Byron's play is not particularly important to Schreber, and that he mentions it only to familiarize his audience with instances of supposed soul murder in the literary tradition. I want to suggest, however, that Schreber's Ariman is genuinely indebted to Byron's Arimanes, and that the primary connection between the two is their divine abusiveness. Schreber, in seeking to represent his paranoiac relation to authority, turns to the scene in Byron's play in which Manfred approaches the throne of Arimanes and endures taunts and insults from the attendant spirits. Schreber dispenses with the attendant spirits, but otherwise his situation is quite similar:

During the night the lower God (Ariman) appeared. The radiant picture of his rays became visible to my inner eye . . . while I was lying in bed not sleeping but awake—that is to say he was reflected on my inner nervous system. Simultaneously I heard his voice; but it was not a soft whisper—as the talk of the voices always was before and after that time—it resounded in a mighty bass as if directly in front of my bedroom windows. The impression was intense, so that anybody not hardened to terrifying miraculous impressions as I was, would have been shaken to the core. Also what was spoken did not sound friendly by any means; everything seemed calculated to instill fright and terror into me and the word "wretch" was frequently heard—an expression quite common in the basic language to denote a human being destined to be destroyed by God and to feel God's power and wrath. Yet everything that was spoken was genuine, not phrases learnt by rote as they later were, but the immediate expression of true feeling.[20]

p. 131

In this passage, Schreber describes himself as being in the position of Manfred at the beginning of Act II.iv. Like Manfred, he confronts a divine figure identified with the sun: Byron's stage directions place Arimanes on "a Globe of Fire" (II.iv.stage directions); Schreber notes that Ariman is identified "with the sun" by the voices that talk with him (p. 91).[21] Ariman speaks to Schreber in a "mighty bass" voice, a threateningly paternal boom that underscores his masculinity.[22] Although Byron's Arimanes does not abuse Manfred, his attendant spirits do, and Schreber seems to have conflated them in his own version of the scene. In Byron, the attendants' words, like the ones that Schreber hears, are designed to "instill fright and terror" into Manfred. The word "wretch" ("Luder") that Schreber hears may even be an echo from Byron. As soon as Manfred enters the Hall of Arimanes, a spirit tells him, "Thou most rash and fatal wretch, / Bow down and worship!" (II.iv.29-30).[23] Moreover, just as Schreber feels that he is destined "to be destroyed by God and to feel God's power and wrath," so the attendant spirits tell Manfred, "Prostrate thyself, and thy condemned clay, / Child of the Earth! or dread the worst" (II.iv.34-35), and, when he refuses, bellow at him, "Crush the worm! / Tear him in pieces" (49-50). These similarities suggest that Schreber uses Byron's play not merely for a passing reference but as a model for his delusions.

In addition, in both cases, Arimanes/Ariman proves his power by summoning up a female form: his supernatural agency is exercised in relation to femaleness. Manfred goes to Arimanes to speak to his dead sister, Astarte, and only Arimanes can raise her phantom from the dead. Schreber's delusion parodically rescripts this scene. His Ariman, like Byron's Arimanes, also summons a woman, but in Schreber's case, the woman is Schreber himself. From early in Schreber's Memoirs, we learn that Ariman wants to turn Schreber into a woman. This metamorphosis will take place through the special quality of Ariman's rays, which he sends into Schreber's body: "The rays of the lower God (Ariman) have the power of producing the miracle of unmanning" (p. 61).[24] As Freud explains, Schreber initially understands this transformation as a form of soul murder, but eventually comes to see it as a glorious destiny through which he will be able to redeem the world by bearing children after an apocalyptic disaster.

Schreber's treatment of his unmanning at the hands of Ariman cleverly misreads doubling in Manfred. Both Byron's Arimanes and Schreber's Ariman summon up the female copy of their heroes. In Byron, Astarte is Manfred's double: "She was like me in lineaments—her eyes, / Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone / Even of her voice, they said were like to mine" (II.ii.105-07). With the assistance of Ariman, Schreber becomes his own female double, thereby taking into his body the mirroring of Manfred and Astarte in Byron. The Byronic precedent may have been particularly appealing to Schreber because in both cases, Arimanes/Ariman calls up a woman who is not quite a woman. In Manfred, Astarte appears only as a phantom, and we never know the relation of the inaccessible, real Astarte to this phantom, who has her shape but may or may not be her. In Schreber, Ariman attempts to turn Schreber into a woman, but the transformation is never complete. Schreber believes that he is progressing to full femaleness, but recognizes that he has a long way to go. In both texts, Ariman/Arimanes has power over femaleness, but only femaleness that is lacking or not fully present.

Two more Byronic traits of Schreber's Ariman fill out the picture of the Memoir's Byronism. Schreber describes the quality of Ariman's speech to him in terms indebted to Byron's reception as the poet of sincerity: "Yet everything that was spoken was genuine, not phrases learnt by rote as they later were, but the immediate expression of true feeling." This admission matters to Schreber because he usually describes the divine rays as speaking in "a terrible, monotonous description of ever-recurring phrases (learnt by rote)" (pp. 58-59).[25] As Mark S. Roberts has noted, the rays' constant, rote repetition belongs to Schreber's larger sense of his dehumanization: "His fear of becoming completely mechanical—robotic—and his resistance to this transformation surface in a set of brilliantly inventive strategies intended to combat the repetitiveness and regularity of his treatment and his own experience and behavior."[26] One of these strategies may be giving a Byronic tinge to Ariman's speech, for Byron was the romantic poet associated above all with "the immediate expression of true feeling," the polar opposite of the mechanization that Schreber usually experiences. Rather than the more expected possibility of seeing in Manfred the voice of "true feeling," Schreber transfers this typically Byronic trait to Arimanes/Ariman. This sincerity comforts and even reassures Schreber, although the actual content of Ariman's speeches to him is quite violent. At least he hears the genuine voice of true feeling, in a Byronic mode of sincerity, rather than the post-romantic emptiness of quasi-technological static. Better to experience sincere abuse than meaningless babble.

At a more thematic level, there may also be a Byronic tinge to Schreber's treatment of the national and racial preferences of his Ariman. Schreber's text is an Orientalist fantasy-nightmare: other critics have described well how it registers the racial, religious, and nationalistic conflicts that would later devastate Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.[27] Schreber associates Ariman especially with a desire for Semitic races: "The lower God (Ariman) seems to have felt attracted to nations of originally brunette race (the Semites) and the upper God to nations of originally blond race (the Aryan peoples)" (p. 30).[28] Once Ariman discovers Schreber's attractions, Schreber's text links his fears of unmanning to fears of Jewishness, feminization, castration, and homosexuality. Nothing in the text of Manfred itself would associate Ariman with this complex, if familiar, chain of identifications. Yet if we look outside of Manfred to Byron's life and work more generally, they provided a particularly well-known manifestation of themes that haunt Schreber's imagination, especially the links between the Wandering Jew, transgressive sexuality, and the dangerous attractions of non-Western people. Though I would not argue that Byron was the sole source of these themes for Schreber, the larger context of Byron's work overdetermines Ariman's sexual threat to Schreber and helps to explain why Schreber associated his version of Ariman with Byron's.

Having looked at Byronic resonances in Schreber, I want to step back and examine at a more general level exactly what Byron and Ariman do for Schreber. He attributes his soul murder and unmanning to a deity named Ariman and links that deity to Byron's Manfred. This link, in essence, allows him to understand his unorthodox sexuality/theology as something for which he is not responsible. His logic depends on two "if-then" propositions: if his vision of being unmanned by Ariman is purely the product of his own mind, then he is crazy; if he can ground his understanding of Ariman in some external source, then he cannot be crazy because he has not invented everything himself. In terms of his sexuality, Schreber desperately wants to prove exactly what the Bloomian romantic poet wishes to deny: his own derivativeness. Since Arimanes also appears in Byron in connection with soul murder, Schreber "proves" that he cannot be crazy, because a poet as famous and as admired as Byron recognized the same connection. Specious as this logic is, Schreber's text invests it with considerable urgency. Byron grounds Schreber's demonstration that the terrible embarrassment of his sexuality (his desire to become a woman and have sex with God) originates in something outside himself, namely Ariman.

Byronists have something to learn from Schreber's use of Manfred. Whereas the standard reading of the play sees it as Byron's most detailed account of the narcissistic, self-involved Byronic hero, Schreber unexpectedly uses it to disrupt such narcissism.[29] A typical critical comment on the play finds Manfred's treatment of Astarte to represent "the most severe type of narcissistic pathology," in which "the relation is no longer between self and object but between a primitive, pathological, grandiose self and the temporary projection of that same grandiose self onto objects."[30] In this reading, Astarte is one more male romantic self-projection, of the kind that feminist criticism of romanticism has rightly criticized.

But, on the evidence of his Memoirs, Schreber implies a rather different reading of the play. A Schreberian reading of Manfred might counter by noting that if Astarte were nothing more than Manfred's projection, there would be no reason for Manfred to bother with Arimanes in the first place.[31] Manfred, of course, cannot call up Astarte's phantom: Arimanes has to. Although Astarte is the most shadowy woman in Byron, Byron's inclusion of Arimanes discourages reading her as Manfred's self-projection. It may be a sign of our post-Freudian stance as readers that it is so easy to bypass the supernatural machinery of Byron's play as claptrap. Yet we do so at the cost of registering the otherness that Byron has created in relation to Astarte. Although Manfred may talk about her, in order actually to talk to her, he needs outside help in a way that underscores the degree to which his internalization of her is incomplete. Schreber, by taking Arimanes seriously as a means of countering the potential charge of his own narcissism, is a more provocative reader of the resistance in Byron's text to the hero's narcissism.

A Schreberian reading of Manfred would distinguish more carefully than is usually done between narcissism, self-obsession, and autonomy, because Byron disrupts the assumed causal relationship between them. In Manfred, even the libido needs to be overcome to permit the self's claims to absolute autonomy. Manfred's feelings for Astarte appear less as an aspect of an intrinsic sexuality than as a disease that haunts him throughout the play and that he longs to transcend. In the scene with the Chamois Hunter, for example, he is overwhelmed when the hunter offers him wine:

Manfred.   Away, away! there's blood upon the brim!
     Will it then never—never sink in the earth?
Chamois Hunter. What dost thou mean? thy senses wander from thee.
Manfred.   I say 'tis blood—my blood! The pure warm stream
     Which ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours
     When we were in our youth, and had one heart,
     And loved each other as we should not love.


The point of Manfred's desire that blood sink into the earth is the hope that he can at last move beyond his fixation on Astarte and her death. For Manfred, to do so would be to reach a state beyond erotic desire, to have achieved a truly autonomous self. The achievement of his scene with Astarte is that he actually reaches this state: he at last purges her from his consciousness. Once she has spoken to him, their relationship is over forever, and he never mentions her again.

As such, Manfred exemplifies a theory of the ego instincts that Freud himself chose to discard. As he explains in Civilization and Its Discontents, his understanding of the instincts had a three-part history:

(1) A belief in the "antithesis . . . between the ego-instincts," directed toward "preserving the individual," and "the 'libidinal' instincts of love . . . which were directed to an object."[32]

(2) The abandonment of the distinct category of the ego instincts because of his discovery of "the concept of narcissism—that is to say, the discovery that the ego itself is cathected with libido, that the ego, indeed, is the libido's original home, and remains to some extent its headquarters" (p. 65).[33] In this stage, the ego loses out to the libido, which becomes the dominant and uncontested force in the instincts. This theory underlies Freud's analysis of Schreber.

(3) The return to a dualistic theory of the instincts after the recognition of "the ubiquity of non-erotic aggressivity and destructiveness" (p. 67), which Freud calls the "instinct of death" (p. 66). The result was that "the phenomena of life could be explained from the concurrent or mutually opposing action of these two instincts [Eros and death]" (p. 66).[34]

Interestingly, Freud does not consider how the death instinct of (3) might be understood as a return to the ego instincts of (1), so that "non-erotic aggressivity" could be a mode of "preserving the individual." Instead, he ends up with a theory in which the preservation of the ego plays no part in the instincts except in the form of narcissism: the fragile ego is entirely overwhelmed by the libido and the death drive.

Manfred, however, presents a model of subjectivity much closer to Freud's initial formulation of the antithesis between ego instincts and the libido, in which narcissism has not yet entirely engulfed selfhood. After Manfred has become immune to the attacks of remorse created by his love for Astarte, he falls back on what Freud would call the ego instincts, as when he speaks confidently of his autonomy to the demons who come to possess him:

Thou didst not tempt me, and thou couldst not tempt me;

I have not been thy dupe, nor am I thy prey—

But was my own destroyer, and will be

My own hereafter.


A standard Freudian reading might interpret this speech in terms of the third phase of Freud's theory, so that Manfred exemplifies here the confluence of the libido and the death drive. The libido appears as grandiloquent narcissism: desire has collapsed back onto the self after having been projected outward onto Astarte. The death drive appears as his insistence that he has been and will be his own destroyer. He seizes his death from the demons who want to control it.

Yet an alternative reading might note that Manfred has attained a distinctly drab mode of self-obsession: he seems less in love with himself than stuck with himself. His insistence that he has been and will be his "own destroyer" needs to be read with careful attention to tone. His repetition of the words "my own" foregrounds the strength and persistence of the ego that the death drive is supposed to annihilate.[35] As the play progresses, Manfred dies neither because he is his own destroyer nor because demons kill him off but because of what the play presents as necessity, forces over which neither Manfred nor the demons have any control. He simply announces in the last scene, "I feel my soul / Is ebbing from me" (III.iv.99-100). We might expect that he would connect this feeling with the Phantom of Astarte's forecast of his death and perhaps express gratitude that she has allowed him to reach the oblivion that he has so long desired. Yet no such mention occurs: nothing in Act III relates Manfred's death to the words of the Phantom. Even though Manfred spends much of the play longing for forgetfulness and death, his actual death owes nothing to his agency or to that of any other character: it just happens. Act III exemplifies less the death drive than the concept that Freud abandoned early in his career, the ego's instinct for self-preservation and opposition to the forces that threaten it, like the libido.

For Schreber as for Manfred, the libido appears as an invading force that victimizes the authentic ego:

Most nearly in consonance with the Order of the World were those miracles which were somehow connected with a process of unmanning to be carried out on my body. To them belonged especially the various changes in my sex organ: several times (particularly in bed) there were marked indications of an actual retraction of the male organ . . . further the removal by miracles of single hairs from my beard and particularly my mustache; finally a change in my whole stature (diminution of body size) . . . . The last-mentioned miracle which emanated from the lower God (Ariman), was always accompanied by him with the announcement "I wonder whether to make you somewhat smaller."[36]

pp. 142

Schreber underscores his passivity in the face of these supposedly divine miracles. At least Manfred actively seeks out Arimanes and his attendants. Schreber takes Manfred's reliance on Arimanes a step further by treating himself as a helpless victim of Ariman's bodily transformations. As Chabot notes, "Schreber persistently depicts the miracles, his unmanning, his treatment within the institutions, even his earlier hypochondria, which enacts his body's betrayal of him, as infringements of his autonomy."[37] Whatever may be happening with his sexuality, Schreber insists, is not of his doing and, therefore, not his fault. His entire text protests the possibility that his unmanning is merely the projection of a sick consciousness.

For Schreber, literary reference bolsters this protest. Recognizing that Ariman and soul murder are not only outside of himself but also resemble motifs found in a literary work by Byron proves that everything that he describes cannot be self-generated. To admit the power of Byron over his imagination parallels his ability to admit the power of Ariman over his body: in both cases, the truth is out there, not in his head. Literary reference foregrounds the encounter with otherness and consequently preserves the distinctness of his ego. In his book on Schreber, Louis Sass notes about schizophrenics, "Rather than mistaking the imaginary for the real, they often seem to live in two parallel but separate worlds: consensual reality and the realm of their hallucinations and delusions."[38] Schreber's literary reference to Byron might be understood as a moment in which these two worlds become a little less separate. There is crossover between them that, for Schreber, validates them both. In Schreber's version, since others will have heard of soul murder and of Arimanes /Ariman from Byron, the god and his actions cannot be purely a product of Schreber's own psyche, just as, for all Manfred's narcissism, Arimanes reminds us that Manfred's relation to Astarte is not purely self-projection.

One might be tempted to dismiss Schreber's self-portrayal as the sad delusion of a mentally ill man. Yet his self-distancing from the origins of his unmanning also distanced him from his madness, which ultimately allowed him to get out of the asylum. By proving to the courts that he was sane and not sane at the same time, because his sexual/theological system did not stop him from living an ordinary, responsible life, he became a free man. As the court noted, "Practical experience has shown that plaintiff's insane belief in miracles although forming the basis of his mental life does not dominate him so exclusively that he is deprived of the capacity of quiet and sensible consideration of other affairs of life" (p. 432).[39] The defense against narcissism that Byron provides Schreber and his consequent recognition of an external reality led the court to release him, even though the judge admitted that he was insane. The stakes were high for Schreber's ability to distance himself from his madness, and he played them well.

Having examined Byron's importance to Schreber, I want to return to Freud and his bafflement at Schreber's Byronism. Freud brilliantly and relentlessly undoes Schreber's central claim to the external origins of his experience. Every element of Schreber's case Freud unmasks as a result of projection, the illusion in which the external displaces the internal. In terms of Schreber's sexuality, which Schreber attributes to Ariman's power, Freud is so determined to prove its internal origins that he offers two accounts of the formation of homosexual desire. In the first, Schreber's homosexuality comes about through an "abnormal" resolution of "the familiar ground of the father-complex" (p. 131) ["auf dem wohlvertrauten Boden des Vaterkomplexes" (p. 291)], in which the infant responds defensively to the father's interference with libidinal gratification:

In the final stage of Schreber's delusion a glorious victory was scored by the infantile sexual tendencies; for voluptuousness became God-fearing, and God himself (his father) never tired of demanding it from him. His father's most dreaded threat, castration, actually provided the material for his wish-phantasy . . . of being transformed into a woman.[40]

p. 131

There is a small but telling omission in Freud's account of Schreber's delusion that heightens Freud's argument for the internal origins of Schreber's illness. In Schreber, God does not merely demand voluptuousness from Schreber; he causes this voluptuousness through the incessant infusion of his rays into Schreber's body. Schreber explains that the "gradual filling" of his body with "nerves of voluptuousness (female nerves)" produced "'soul-voluptuousness,'" which actually made his body more attractive to the rays (p. 96).[41] Freud rewrites Schreber so that Schreber accommodates himself to God's desires, which Freud argues are really Schreber's desires. Yet Schreber presents himself more passively, since those desires have themselves been forced on him. In arguing that Schreber's delusion is a "wish-phantasy," Freud implies that Schreber evinces more desire than he actually does. In Schreber's eyes, what happens to him is neither a wish nor a fantasy, but an inevitability to which he reconciles himself.

After having suggested that homosexuality is primarily about wish fantasy, Freud in the next section of his essay provides a different but equally internalized account of the formation of homosexual desire:

There comes a time in the development of the individual at which he unifies his sexual instincts . . . in order to attain a love-object; and he begins by taking himself, his own body, as his love object, and only subsequently proceeds from this to the choice of some person other than himself as his object . . . . Persons who are manifest homosexuals in later life have, it may be presumed, never emancipated themselves from the binding condition that the object of their choice must possess genitals like their own.[42]

p. 137

Here, the "father-complex" disappears entirely. For reasons that Freud does not explain, the homosexual in this account has failed at "emancipation" from same-sex to opposite-sex attraction. The point is not, as is sometimes claimed, that homosexual desire is a transformation of primary narcissism: for Freud, all desire is a transformation of primary narcissism, no matter what the partner's gender. Homosexuals fetishistically cathect on the genitals as the privileged signifier for the self. Consequently, for primary narcissism to be projected outwards, homosexuals require a partner who have the same genitals that they do. (Freud in this passage skirts entirely the issue of role-assignment in homosexual partnerships.) The other person in a homosexual relationship does not really exist except as a double for the self, as signified by genitalia.

Although Freud never reconciles these two models of homosexual origins, the core of his accounts remains the same: the ego's enslavement to the libido. The libido is inescapable; as he notes, "one's libido must go somewhere" (p. 141; "da man doch mit seiner Libido irgendwohin muß" [p. 301]), and that "somewhere" is ultimately determined by internal psychological battles. The possibility of a self without a libido does not exist, nor is it possible that one's libido might be determined externally, since all desire is ultimately an outgrowth of narcissism. His theory thus positions itself as the opposite of Byron's treatment of sexuality in Manfred, in which the ego instincts free themselves from the libido, and the opposite of Schreber's self-representation as a passive victim of external libidinal forces. Freud insists that the ego and the libido are inseparable.

The resistance posed by Schreber's Byronic allusion to Freud's analysis might be understood as an allegory for the difference between their understandings of sexuality. The incest that Freud discovers in Byron proves useless for his analysis because he cannot show it to be a projection of Schreber's narcissistic ego. Indeed, he cannot show it to be of any relevance to Schreber at all. Although Schreber had three sisters, they seem to have played no role in his psychic life, unless Schreber discussed them in the censored third chapter of his Memoirs. It is much easier for Freud to link homosexuality to paranoia than to link heterosexual sibling incest to paranoia because Schreber's paranoia projects love/hate relations onto various male father figures, including Arimanes, his analyst Flechsig, and his actual father. Manfred's relation to Astarte does not manifest the same-sex power differential that, in Freud's eyes, is necessary to generate paranoia, and therefore is not a useful model for understanding Schreber's illness. Incest is too uncomfortably external for Freud because it, unlike homosexuality, cannot be shown to be a paranoid projection. As a result, sibling incest becomes the broken thread in Freud's analysis because he cannot link it to Schreber's narcissism.

Given that Freud cannot use what he finds to be most significant in Manfred, it seems that he ought to have cut his discussion of the play altogether, and the question is why he did not.[43] My answer is that the "otherness" that Freud rejects on a theoretical level he desires on an authorial level. Freud's reading of incest in Byron, like Schreber's, functions as a desired kernel of otherness within his analysis, a moment of escape from the tyranny of his own system. Throughout much of his essay, Freud is securely in control of his system, so much so that he casts his relation to Schreber in terms of a familiar comic coupling: Schreber is the alazon, the overreaching dreamer and visionary, while Freud is the eiron, the down-to-earth, satirical undercutter of the alazon's fantasy.[44] He is able to show that Schreber is not special, but merely an unusual case of the same libidinal tendencies that affect everyone else. This comic strain accounts for the humor of much of the essay, which has often been overlooked by later critics but was obvious to its first readers: Jung, for example, found it "uproariously funny."[45]

Yet, near the end of the essay, Freud plays with the idea that he and Schreber may not be as different as they seem:

Schreber's "rays of God," which are made up of a condensation of the sun's rays, of nerve-fibers, and of spermatozoa, are in reality nothing else than a concrete representation and external projection of libidinal cathexes; and they thus lend his delusions a striking similarity with our theory. His belief that the world must come to an end because his ego was attracting all the rays to itself, his anxious concern at a later period, during the process of reconstruction, lest God should sever his ray-connection with him,—these and many other details of Schreber's delusional formation sound almost like endopsychic perceptions of the process whose existence I have assumed in these pages as the basis of our explanation of paranoia. I can nevertheless call a friend and fellow-specialist to witness that I had developed my theory of paranoia before I became acquainted with the contents of Schreber's book.[46]

p. 154

After having spent most of his essay asserting his interpretive mastery over Schreber, Freud at the end of his essay jokingly worries that Schreber has anticipated his own analysis.[47] He writes with pseudo-anxiety, complete with his mock-offer to produce witnesses to his own originality. Yet this pseudo-anxiety may hide a more genuine anxiety, which is less that Schreber is the source for Freud's interpretive system than that the all-encompassing nature of Freudian hermeneutics makes him not all that different from Schreber.[48]

For Freud as for Schreber, the danger is not that he has a system but that the system has him, that he has become so enmeshed in an interpretive framework that he cannot see outside of it. The danger was acute because Freud wrote his Schreber essay in crisis years for his theories, when he was especially defensive about them: "These were crucial years in the consolidation of the psychoanalytic movement in the face of increasingly profound internal division—the final break with Adler would come in 1911, with Jung two years later—which, of course, only intensified and complicated the ongoing struggle for recognition from the larger scientific and intellectual community" (Santner p. 24). Freud elsewhere acknowledges and yet insists on the totalizing quality of psychoanalytic claims: "I must disclaim all responsibility for the monotony of the solutions provided by psychoanalysis" (p. 130). Since he regards these solutions as true, their repetitiveness should not be held against him. Yet in moments like his reading of Manfred, he resists his own system: he unexpectedly breaks his monotony by foregrounding his willingness to confront baffling, uncertain threads of investigation.

The relevant comparison here is with Freud's most famous analysis of his own failure, his Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905), better known as the Dora case. It has become a commonplace in the discussion of the Dora case that Freud compensates for the ostensible failure of the analysis (Dora aggressively contests his interpretations and walks out before the analysis is complete) with the thoroughness and mastery of his account. As Steven Marcus notes, "this fragment of Freud's is more complete and coherent than the fullest case studies of anyone else."[49] Although the encounters with Dora may have been fragmentary, hostile, and unsatisfying, Freud used writing to create a totality lacking in life, especially by introducing his theory of transference.

Freud's role in the Schreber analysis partly reverses his role in the Dora case. In the case of Schreber, Freud confronts not a fragmentary experience with a patient, but an experience with a patient whose self-analysis is too complete. Whereas in Dora's case, Freud labors to create a compensatory completeness, with Schreber, he labors to create a compensatory fragmentation. Dora's hysteria demands that Freud fill in the gaps in her story; Schreber's paranoia encourages Freud to introduce gaps in his, with the broken thread of Byronic incest being the most prominent of them. I would not overestimate these gaps: Freud does not so much undermine his authority as allow himself moments of baffled exploration. Freud fissures his narrative voice from the integrity of his interpretive system by rendering the system simultaneously less authoritative and more interesting because of its potential failures.

Manfred, Schreber's Memoirs, and Freud's analysis form an echoing series about the disruption of paranoid narcissism. In Manfred, the presence of Arimanes reminds us that the world of the play is not simply the Byronic hero's self-projection; in Schreber, Ariman's presence proves that he alone is not responsible for his sexual transformation; and in Freud, Byronic incest is the unaccountable clue that proves that Freud's system is not self-sufficient. For these authors, the psychic battle that Freud posited and abandoned between the ego instincts and libido can be appropriated for a paranoid theory of authorship. Writing involves a contest between the author's desire to create a system (Byronism; paranoid theology; and psychoanalysis) and, at the same time, to preserve his independence from the system's potentially engulfing power. Like the libido, the system becomes an ambiguous "other" that both empowers the authorial self and renders it vulnerable. The authors, therefore, build in moments of resistance to their system even as they seem to depend on it. Unlike Byron, Freud and Schreber use intertextuality to enable this resistance. In contrast with Bloom's understanding of the anxiety of influence, in which author must combat previous writers to establish his originality, a paranoid theory of authorship understands authors as welcoming references to previous authors to stave off the potentially overwhelming results of their own creativity. Such references render the text other to itself in ways that diminish the monolithic demands of the need to view the creation of a text as a doubling of self.

Freud's use of Byron may misrecognize that Schreber also uses Byron to mark an "outside" to an interpretive system that valorizes the authority of the system-builder by suggesting that he has not become trapped entirely within a hermeneutic circle. Freud sees no such "outside" in Schreber and reduces him to the megalomania that Schreber, like Freud himself, is quick to unsettle. Yet in both their essays, Byron's presence marks the limit of any desire to see sexuality as entirely containable within human systems. Schreber is caught in his own bizarre reenactment of Manfred, in which he is helplessly victimized by Ariman; Freud turns himself into the comically overeager critic, triumphantly finding in Manfred clues that turn out not to be clues at all.

As a result, the Byronic heritage is not an easily assimilable one. Schreber's Ariman disrupts every aspect of his body and desires; Freud's Manfred is a "broken thread" within his interpretive system. At the same time, this drawback turns out to be a benefit as well: the Byronic aspects of sexuality for both writers are an unexpected defense against narcissism. Romantic sexuality as represented by Byron challenges the hegemony of psychiatry's internalization of the libido. Its presence insists that the psyche is never as original as it wishes to be, for desire is visited upon it from outside. Even as Freudian discourse defined sexuality ever more rigidly as the heart of subjectivity, Byronic images of sexuality provided a welcome reminder of desire's non-identity with the ego.