Schreber’s Prepsychotic Phase : 1st July 1951 [1953] : Maurits Katan

by Julia Evans on July 1, 1951

Katan regarded this article as a sequel to his paper ‘Structural Aspect of a Case of Schizophrenia’, The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, v5, 1950 wherin he discussed the loss of the positive Œdipus Complex in the prepsychotic phase of schizophrenia. It was received for publication on 1stJuly 1953.

Published International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (IJPA), v34 (1953), p43-51

Available here

References used by Maurits Katan

These are mainly to  Memoirs of my nervous illness: 1903: D. P. Schreber: Information here

P43, at the beginning, Katan refers to Chapter 4, p34. Note : p34 is the page number in the German edition. In the Ida MacAlpine & Richard Hunter translation it is:

Chapter IV :  Personal experiences during the first and the beginning of the second nervous illness : p61

P43 : ‘I have discussed in the previous chapters : p61

P43 : ‘no incidents on the supernatural’ : p62

P43 : ‘favourable impression of Flechsig’s treatment’ p62 and so on

P46 : p46 of James Strachey’s translation, SE XII, Case history of Schreber: 16th December 1910: Sigmund Freud or here : At the time of this illness Dr Schreber was fifty-one years of age, and he had therefore reached a time of life which is of critical importance in sexual development. It is a period at which in women the sexual function, after a phase of far-reaching involution; nor do men appear to be exempt from its influence, for men as well as women are subject to a “climacteric” and to the special susceptibility to disease which goes along with it.

P46 : Footnote 6 : p12-13 of James Strachey’s translation, SE XII, : After my recovery from my first illness I spent eight years with my wife – years upon the whole, of great happiness, rich in outward honours, and only clouded from time to time by the oft-repeated disappointment of our hope that we might be blessed with children.

P46 : Footnote 7 : p57 of James Strachey’s translation, SE XII : His marriage, which he describes as being in other respects a happy one, brought him no children; in particular it brought him no son who might have consoled hi or the loss of his father and brother and upon whom he might have drained off his unsatisfied homosexual affections.

P46 : Footnote 8 : p59 of James Strachey’s translation, SE XII, : Dr Schreber may have formed a phantasy that if he were a woman he would manage the business of having children more successfully; and he may thus have found his way back into the feminine attitude towards his father which he had exhibited in the earliest years of his childhood. If that were so, then his delusion that as a result of his emasculation, the world was to be peopled with ‘a new race of men, born from the spirit of Schreber’ – a delusion the realization of which he was continually postponing to a more and more remote future – would also be designed to offer him an escape from his childlessness.

P46, Footnote 10 : Freud’s article on Schreber was published four years before his article ‘Those Wrecked by Success’. Apparently, at the time of writing the first of these two articles, Freud had not yet discovered this mechanism, for he does not mention it. : Some Character-Types met with in Psycho-Analytic Work :1916: Sigmund Freud : Section II – II Those Wrecked by Success, SE XIV p309-333 : Translated E. C. Mayne : Note, these three essays were published in the last issue of Imago, v4, p317-336, 1916

P48 This ego weakness is corroborated by the fact that finally, one morning, the ego was taken by surprise, and the feminine urge, which until now Schreber had succeeded in warding off, became completely conscious. Footnote 11 : Professor Freud assumes that Schreber’s dream of his illness returning expressed simply a wish on Schreber’s part to see Flechsig again (p42 of James Strachey’s translation, SE XII – see below). Certainly this interpretation is correct, but I still think that the analysis of the dream shows primarily the ego’s hope to be able to prevent the return of the illness.

Note : Freud examines the relationship between Schreber and Flechsig from p38 to p44 of SE XII, Section II, Attempts at Interpretation, of Notes on a case of paranoia : 1910. Quote p42 – 43 : During the incubation period of his illness, as we are aware (that is, between June 1893, when he was appointed to his new post, and the following October, when he took up his duties), he repeatedly dreamt that his old nervous disorder had returned. Once, moreover, when he was half asleep, he had a feeling that after all it must be nice to be a woman submitting to the act of copulation. The dreams and the phantasy are reported by Schreber in immediate succession; and if we also bring together their subject-matter, we shall be able to infer that, at the same time as his recollection of his illness, a recollection of his doctor was also aroused in his mind, and that the feminine attitude which he assumed in the phantasy was from the first directed towards the doctor. Or it may be that the dream of his illness having returned simply expressed some such longing as: ‘I wish I could see Flechsig again!’ Our ignorance of the mental content of the first illness bars our way in this direction. Perhaps that illness had left behind in him a feeling of affectionate dependence upon his doctor, which had now, for some unknown reason, become intensified to the pitch of an erotic desire. This feminine phantasy which was still kept impersonal, was met at once by an indignant repudiation – a true ‘masculine protest’, to use Adler’s expression, but in a sense different from his. But in the severe psychosis which broke out soon afterwards the feminine phantasy carried everything before it; and it only requires a slight correction of the characteristic paranoic indefiniteness of Schreber’s mode of expression to enable us to divine the fact that the patient was in fear of sexual abuse at the hands of his doctor himself. The exciting cause of his illness, then, was an outburst of homosexual libido; the object of this libido was probably from the very first his doctor, Flechsig; and his struggles against the libidinal impulse produced the conflict which gave rise to the symptoms.

P48 The first symptom was his almost total inability to sleep: every time that he did fall asleep for a few moments, he was immediately awakened by sounds. … According to Freud’s illuminating explanation of another case, the sounds that Schreber heard may be interpreted as projections of the beating of the blood in the sexual organs when they become excited. Footnote 13,  A Case of Paranoia running counter to the Psycho-Analytic Theory of the Disease : 1915 : Sigmund Freud : Standard Edition XIV, p263-72 :

Quote from the long case study of a woman in this text : I might go still further in the analysis of this ostensibly real ‘accident’. I do not believe that the clock ever ticked or that there was any noise to be heard at all. The woman’s situation justified a sensation of a knock or beat in her clitoris. And it was this that she subsequently projected as a perception of an external object. Just the same sort of thing can occur in dreams. A hysterical woman patient of mine once related to me a short arousal dream to which she could bring no spontaneous associations. She dreamt simply that someone knocked and then she awoke. Nobody had knocked at the door, but during the previous nights she had been awakened by distressing sensations of pollutions: she thus had a motive for awakening as soon as she felt the first sign of genital excitation. There had been a ‘knock’ in her clitoris. In the case of our paranoic patient, I should substitute for the accidental noise a similar process of projection.

JE notes : The direct application of a finding in one case study to another subject of a different sex, must surely be questioned.

P50 : When Schreber’s wife left him to visit her father, Schreber lost her protection against the homosexual influence of the men who surrounded him. Footnote 16 : p45 of James Strachey’s translation, Vol XII  : When Schreber’s wife left him to visit her father, Schreber lost her protection against the homosexual influence of the men who surrounded him. Footnote 16, p45 of James Strachey’s translation, SE XII : At a later stage in this paper I intend to return to a discussion of some further objections; but in the meantime I shall consider myself justified in maintaining the view that the basis of Schreber’s illness was the outburst of a homosexual impulse. This hypothesis harmonizes with a noteworthy detail of the case history, which remains otherwise inexplicable. The patient had a fresh ‘nervous collapse’, which exercised a decisive effect upon the course of his illness, at a time when his wife was taking a short holiday on account of her own health. Up till then she had spent several hours with him every day and had taken her mid-day meal with him. But when she returned after an absence of four days, she found him most sadly altered: so much so, indeed, that he himself no longer wished to see her. ‘What especially determined my mental break-down was a particular night, during which I had a quite extraordinary number of emissions – quite half a dozen, all in that one night.’ (44.) It is easy to understand that the mere presence of his wife must have acted as a protection against the attractive power of the men about him; and if we are prepared to admit that an emission cannot occur in an adult without some mental concomitant, we shall be able to supplement the patient’s emissions that night by assuming that they were accompanied by homosexual phantasies which remained unconscious.

Maurits Katan referred to by Jacques Lacan

In Seminar III: The Psychoses: 1955-1956: from 16th November 1955: Jacques Lacan or here

– Seminar III : 14th December 1955 : p61 of Russell Grigg’s translation :

Let it be clearly understood that we shall have to proceed methodically, step by step, not leaving out any detail on the pretext that a superficial analogy with a mechanism of neurosis is apparent. In short, we shall do nothing of what is so often done in the literature.

A certain Katan, for example, who has taken a special interest in the Schreber case, takes it for granted that the origin of his psychosis is to be located in his struggle against threatening masturbation provoked by his homosexual erotic investments upon the character who formed the prototype and at the same time the nucleus of his persecutory system, namely, Professor Flechsig. [Footnote 1]This is supposed to have driven President Schreber so far as to under- mine reality, that is to say, to reconstruct, after a short period of twilight of the world,[Footnote 2]a new, unreal world, in which he didn’t have to give in to this masturbation that was thought to be so threatening. Don’t we all feel that a mechanism of this kind, while it’s true that it enters into play in the neuroses at a certain point of their articulation, would here be having altogether dis- proportionate results?

President Schreber gives a very clear account of the first phases of his psychosis. And when he testifies that between the first psychotic attack, a phase called, not without foundation, prepsychotic, and the progressive establishment of the psychotic phase, at the height of the stabilization of which he wrote his work, he had a fantasy which was expressed in these words, that it really must be rather pleasant to be a woman succumbing to inter- course.[Footnote 3]

Footnote 1 : See Maurits Katan, “Schreber’s Delusion of the End of the World,” “Schreber’s Hallucinations about the ‘Little Men,’ ” “Further Remarks about Schreber’s Hallucinations,” and “Schreber’s Prepsychotic Phase.” (this paper) See below for availability

Footnote 2 : “le crispuscule du monde,” “Wehuntergang,” translated as the end of the world in Schreber’s Memoirs.

Footnote 3 : Memoirs p36 in German version : p63 in Ida Macalpine & Richard A. Hunter’s translation : Ch IV Personal experiences during the first and the beginning of the second nervous illness

– Seminar III : 25th January 1956 : p102 of Russell Grigg’s translation :

I shall return to one of the authors who have spoken in the greatest detail about the question of the psychoses, namely, Katan. He emphasizes the notion of defense. But I don’t want to proceed by means of commentaries on commentaries. We have to start with the book, as Freud recommends.

– Seminar III : 25th January 1956 : p104-105 of Russell Grigg’s translation :

Delusions are indeed legible, but they are also transcribed into another register. In neurosis, one always remains inside the symbolic order, with this duality of signifier and signified that Freud translates as the neurotic compromise. Delusions occur in a completely different register. They are legible, but there is no way out. How does this come about? This is the economic problem that remains open at the time Freud completes the Schreber case.

I’m making some large claims. In the case of the neuroses the repressed reappears in loco where it was repressed, that is, in the very midst of symbols, insofar as man as agent and actor integrates himself into them and participates in them. The repressed reappears in loco beneath a mask. The repressed in psychosis, if we know how to read Freud, reappears in another place, in altero, in the imaginary, without a mask. This is quite clear, it’s neither new nor heterodox, it just has to be appreciated that this is the main point. This is far from being a settled issue at the time Freud puts the last full stop to his Schreber study. On the contrary, this is where the difficulties begin to appear.

Others have tried to pick up where Freud left off. Read Katan for example, who tries to give us an analytic theory of schizophrenia in volume five of the collection, Psychoanalysis of the Child.[A reference to Structural Aspects of a Case of Schizophrenia : 1950 : Maurits Katan : The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 5 : p175-211]Read it and you will see very clearly the path that analytic theory has taken.

In Freud the question of the subject’s center always remains open. In the analysis of paranoia, for example, he proceeds step by step to show the evolution of an essentially libidinal disturbance, a complex play of an aggregate of transferable, transmutable desires, which may regress, and the center of this entire dialectic is still problematic for us.

– Seminar III : 11th April 1956 : p190-192 of Russell Grigg’s translation :

Freud gave powerful expression, in the text on Schreber we’re working on among others, to the radical distinction between passional conviction and delusional conviction. The former depends upon the projection of intentions. It is, for example, jealousy where I’m jealous of my own feelings in the other, where it’s my own drives to be unfaithful that I impute to the other. As to the second, Freud formulates it thus, that what has been rejected from within reappears without, or again, as one tries to say in an expanded form, that [p191] what has been suppressed in the idea reappears in the real. But what does this mean, exactly?

In neurosis, too, we see this action of the drive and its consequences. Doesn’t this formulation leave something to be desired, something confused, defective, even absurd? Every author confines himself to this formulation, and in putting it to you in this form, I wasn’t wanting to contribute anything original. I think I can find someone among you to help me look more closely at the works in which Katan has tried to grasp the mechanism of psychotic neo-formation [JE : this paper]. You will observe what an extraordinary dead-end he arrives at, from which he escapes only at the price of contradictory formulations. This testifies to the conceptual difficulties one is committed to if one confuses, however slightly, the notion of reality with that of objectivity, or even with that of meaning, if one moves away from a reality distinct from the test of the real, from a reality in the sentiment of the real.

An entire phenomenological supposition, which extends well beyond the field of psychoanalysis and holds sway there only insofar as it equally holds sway elsewhere, is based on confusing the realm of meaningfulness with the realm of meaning. Proceeding from works that are extremely rigorous elaborations upon the function of the signifier, supposedly psychological phenomenology slides into the realm of meaning. This is its basic point of confusion. It’s led towards it like a dog on a scent, and, like the dog, this will never lead it to any kind of scientific result.

You know the would-be opposition between Erklaren [JE : probably to explain or account for]and Verstehen[JE : probably to understand, to interpret, to see].Here we must maintain that the only scientific structure is where there is Erklaren. Verstehenopens onto all kinds of confusion. Erklaren doesn’t at all imply mechanical meaning or anything else of that order. The nature of Erklaren lies in the recourse to the signifier as the sole foundation of all conceivable scientific structuration.

At the beginning of the Schreber case we find a period of disorder, of fertile moment. It presents a whole set of symptoms which, because it has generally been hidden away or, more exactly, because it has slipped through our fingers, has been unable to be elucidated analytically and is most of the time only reconstructed. Now, in reconstructing it we can discover, with very few exceptions, what appear to be the meanings and mechanisms we see at work in neurosis. There is nothing that more closely resembles a neurotic symptomatology than a pre-psychotic symptomatology. Once the diagnosis has been made, we are told that one finds that the unconscious is displayed on the outside, that everything belonging to the id has passed into the external world, and that the meanings in play are so clear that we are precisely unable to intervene analytically.

This is the classical position, and it still has some value. The paradox it contains has escaped nobody, but all the reasons that have been advanced to [p192] explain it are of a tautological or contradictory character. They are super-structurations of totally absurd hypotheses. It suffices to take an interest in analytic literature as a symptom to realize this.

Where does it spring from? From the fact that the world of objects is in some way affected, captured, induced, by a meaning in relation with drives characteristic of the psychoses? Is the construction of an external world distinctive of the psychoses? However, if there is any way of equally defining neurosis, this is it. When do we decide that the subject has crossed over the limits, that he is delusional?

Take the pre-psychotic period. Our President Schreber is living out something in the nature of perplexity. He gives us in living form this question that I was saying lies at the bottom of every form of neurosis. He is prey to strange forebodings – he indicates this to us after the event. He is abruptly invaded by this image which would seem to be the least likely to enter the mind of a man of his kind and his style, that it really must be rather pleasant to be a woman succumbing to intercourse. This is a period of confusion and panic.

How are we to locate the border between this moment of confusion and the point at which his delusion ended with the construction that he was in actual fact a woman, and not just any woman, but the divine woman, or more exactly God’s fiancée? Is there anything here that is sufficient for locating the onset of psychosis? Certainly not. Katan reports a case that he saw declare itself at a much earlier period than Schreber’s, and about which he was able to form a direct idea, having come onto the scene at the turning point of the case.[Footnote 3] It was the case of a youth at the age of puberty, whose whole pre-psychotic period the author analyses very well, while conveying the idea that there was nothing in this subject of the order of accession to anything that would realize in him the virile type. Everything failed. And while he did try to conquer the typically virile attitude, it was by means of imitation, of a latching on, following the example of one of his friends. Like him and following him, he engaged in the first sexual maneuvers of puberty, namely masturbation, which he subsequently renounced under the injunction of the said friend, and he began to identify with him for a whole series of exercises that were called exercises of self-conquest. He behaved as if he were at the mercy of a severe father, which was the case with his friend. Like him, he became interested in a girl who, as if by chance, was the same one his friend was interested in. And once this identification with his friend has gone quite a way, the young girl will readily fall into his arms.

Here we obviously find the as if mechanism that Mrs. Helene Deutsch has stressed as being a significant dimension in the symptomatology of the schizophrenias. [Footnote 4] It’s a mechanism of imaginary compensation – you can verify the usefulness of the distinction between the three registers – for the absent Oedipus complex, which would have given him virility in the form, not of the paternal image, but of the signifier, the name of the father.

Once the psychosis has broken out, the subject will conduct himself in the same way as before, as an unconscious homosexual.

Footnote 3 : See “Structural Aspects of a Case of Schizophrenia” : 1950 : Maurits Katan : The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 5 : p175-211

& Schreber’s Prepsychotic Phase : 1953 : Maurits Katan (this paper) see below for access

Footnote 4 : Some forms of emotional disturbance and their relationship to schizophrenia (‘as if’ case) : 1942 : Helene Deutsch : See  here

– Seminar III :18th April 1956 : p203-204 of Russell Grigg’s translation :

To designate it we’ve made do until now with the term Verwerfung.

This may lead to more than one conflict, but it isn’t essentially a matter of conflicting constellations which in neurosis are explained by a significant decompensation. In psychosis it’s the signifier that is in question, and as the signifier is never solitary, as it invariably forms something coherent – this is the very meaningfulness of the signifier – the lack of one signifier necessarily brings the subject to the point of calling the set of signifiers into question.

Here you have the fundamental key to the problems of the beginning of psychosis, the sequence of its stages, and its meaning.

In fact, the terms in which these questions are usually framed imply what I’m telling you. A Katan, for example, states that hallucination is a mode of defense like any other. [Footnote 6] He’s aware, however, that there are phenomena here which though very closely related are different – the certainty of meaning without content, which may simply be called interpretation, is, effectively, different from hallucination properly so-called. He explains the two by mechanisms designed to protect the subject according to another mode than the one in operation in the neuroses. In the neuroses it’s meaning that temporarily disappears, is eclipsed, and goes and lodges itself somewhere else, whereas reality itself remains. Such defenses are inadequate in the case of psychosis, where what is to protect the subject appears in reality. The subject places outside what may stir up inside him the instinctual drive that he has to con- front.

It’s obvious that the term reality as it’s used here is totally inadequate. Why [p204] not have the courage to say that the mechanism being appealed to is the id – since it’s considered to have the power to modify and disturb what one may call the truth of the thing?

According to this explanation it’s a matter of the subject’s protecting him- self against homosexual temptations. Nobody has ever gone on to say – Schreber less so than anyone else – that all of a sudden he could no longer see people, that the very face of his male counterparts was, by the hand of eternal God, covered with a cloak.

Footnote 6 :  See “Schreber’s Hallucinations about the ‘Little Men.’” : August 1949 (Zürich) : Maurits Katan

& this text “Further Remarks about Schreber’s Hallucinations”

– Seminar III : 25th April 1956 : p211-212

We shall come back to the existence of the souls who are the support of the sentences that constantly include the subject in their turmoil. They waste away with time, down to these famous little men that have greatly attracted the attention of analysts. Katan, in particular, devotes an article to these little men who have been the occasion for all sorts of more or less ingenious interpretations, such as assimilating them to spermatozoa that the subject, having rejected masturbation at a certain point, refuses to lose. [Footnote 4] There is no need to reject such an interpretation but, even if we allow it, it doesn’t exhaust the problem.  [p212]

The important thing is that it involves regressive characters who have returned to their original procreative cell. Katan seems to have forgotten some very early works by Silberer, who was the first to speak of dreams in which there occur certain images of spermatozoa or of the primitive female cell of the ovum.[Footnote 5] At that time, which may be regarded as archaic, Silberer had nevertheless observed perfectly well that it is above all a question of grasping what the function played by these images was, whether they were fantasized or oneiric. It’s moreover curious to see someone, in 1908, take into consideration the notion of what these images signify. According to him, their appearance has a meaning of mortality. It’s a question of a return to origins. It’s equivalent to a manifestation of the death instinct. We can see this clearly in the present case since the little men occur in the context of the twilight of the world, a properly constitutive phase of the delusion’s development.

Be that as it may, on this occasion we’re unable to avoid wondering whether a certain incompleteness in the realization of the paternal function isn’t involved in Schreber’s case. Every author has in fact attempted to explain the onset of Schreber’s delusion with reference to the father. Not that Schreber was in conflict with his father at the time – he had disappeared a long time previously. Not that he was at a time of setback in acceding to paternal functions, since on the contrary he was entering a brilliant stage of his career and had been placed in a position of authority that seems to have solicited him to truly adopt a paternal position, to have offered him a support for idealizing and referring himself to this position. President Schreber’s delusion would therefore depend more on the giddiness of success than on a sense of failure. This is what the understanding generated by authors of the mechanism determining the psychosis revolves around, at least on the psychical level.

For my part, I would make three responses on the subject of the function of the father.

[Footnote 5 : See Herbert Silberer, “Zur Frage der Spermatozoeniraume,” “Spermato- zoentraume,” and “Zum Thema: Spermatozoentraume.”

Footnote 4 : See Katan, “Schreber’s Hallucinations about the ‘Little Men.’ ” which is this text.


Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London



Memoirs of my nervous illness: 1903: D. P. Schreber or here

Case history of Schreber: 16th December 1910: Sigmund Freud or here

Hallucinations about the ‘Little Men’ : August 1949 (Zürich) : Maurits Katan or here

Schreber’s Prepsychotic Phase : 1st July 1951 [1953] : Maurits Katan or here

Further Remarks about Schreber’s Hallucinations : July 1951 [1952] (Amsterdam) : Maurits Katan or here

 Translator’s introduction & analysis of D. P. Schreber’s case: : 1955: Ida MacAlpine & Richard Hunter or available here

Seminar III: The Psychoses: 1955-1956: from 16th November 1955: Jacques Lacan or here

On a question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis : 1955-1956 : two most important parts of Seminar III : Jacques Lacan or here : This is dated December 1955 to January 1956  at the end of the text.

Editor’s Introduction (Psycho-Analytic Notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (Dementia Paranoides) [Case of Schreber] : 1958 : James Strachey or here

Presentation of the ‘Memoirs’ of President Schreber in French translation: November 1966: Jacques Lacan or available here

Introduction to Schreber’s ‘Memoirs of my nervous illness’: 1973: Samuel Weber or here

Introduction to the New Schreber Texts : 1988 : Hans Israëls : Available here

Introduction to D. P. Schreber’s ‘Memoirs : 2000 : Rosemary Dinnage or here

Introduction to ‘A bi-lingual edition of Schreber’s Memoirs of my mental illness/ Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken’: August 2005: Richard G. Klein or available here

Other texts

By Maurits Katan here

Texts related to the case of President Schreber here

By Daniel Paul Schreber here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud : here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

Of the clinic here

Ordinary Psychosis here

Use of power here

Some Lacanian History : here

Topology : here

Lacanian Transmission : here

Related texts

Texts related to the case of President Schreber here

For further engagements with this case, see ‘Case of President Schreber : 1910′ in References to Sigmund Freud within LacanianWorks or here

Schreber’s case revisited with echoes noted in the family of Fred West by Julia Evans : 11th January 2015 : Available here

Ordinary Psychosis: elaborations of James I/VI, Hamlet & Oedipus by Julia Evans on 28th  November 2015 or here

Schreber’s case revisited with echoes noted in the family of Fred West by Julia Evans on 11th  January 2015 : Available here

An Examination of ‘Learned Helplessness’ by Julia Evans on 11th  December 2014 or here

What Cannot Be Said: Desire, Fantasy, Real : 11th September 2013 : Dominique Holvoet by Julia Evans on 11th September 2013 or here

Psychosis, or Radical Belief in the Symptom : 17th June 2012 : Éric Laurent : given in Tel Aviv, Israel or here

The case, from unease to the lie : 2002 : Éric Laurent or here

Three Enigmas: Meaning, Signification, Jouissance : February 1993 : Éric Laurent or here

Lacan and the Discourse of the Other : 1968 : Anthony Wilden or here