The Madness of Robert Schunlann

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O'Connor, Maire
Issue Date
Higher Diploma in Arts in Psychoanalytic Studies
Dublin Business School
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The composer Robert Schummm (1810 - 1856) died in an asylum at Endenich, near Bonn, having previously tried to kill himself by throwing himself into the Rhine. Posthumous diagnoses include syphilis, meningitis, dementia praecox (schizophrenia) and manic depression. There has been much medical and psychiatric debate about the nature of Schumann's mental illness, with no real consensus, but the most persuasive seems to be that of dementia praecox, first proposed by the psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Mobius in 1906. This was later endorsed by Eugen Bleuler, who re-named the illness 'schizophrenia'. Dr. Richarz, who treated Schumann at Endenich, was satisfied that Schumann did not have organic dementia due to syphilis. This dissertation will discuss the case history of Robert Schumann from a psychoanalytic perspective. In his introduction to the Schreber case history, Freud (1911) says that paranoics "cannot be compelled to overcome their internal resistances, and since they only say what they choose to say, a written report or a printed case history can take the place of personal acquaintance with the patient." (Freud, 1911, p138) It is reasonable to apply the same approach to dementia praecox (schizophrenia) in view, firstly, of what Freud referred to as "the close connection between the two disorders" (Freud, 1911, p214) and, secondly, of the considerable amount of information available about Schumann's life and illness. Freud took Schreber's memoirs as his source. Much more is known about Schumann's life, his family circumstances and his illnesses, than Freud knew about Schreber. Here, the psychoanalytic investigation of dementia praecox, as evidenced in the case of the composer Robert Schumann, will be conducted using as principal source of biographical information the biography of Schumann by the American psychiatrist, Peter Ostwald M.D. (Ostwald, 1985). This work draws on Schumaml's diaries, his unpublished letters, a number of biographies (one of which, by Wilhehn Wasielewski, was published the year after the composer's death) and Schumann's own autobiography. Reference will also be made to some of Schumann's musical and literary compositions. The first section of this dissertation will provide a brief outline of Schumann's life, focusing particularly on key events and episodes which are considered to be relevant in the context of the discussion of his mental illness. (A more detailed account of the composer's life and illness is set out in the Appendix.) The theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan in relation to psychosis and, where appropriate, schizophrenia in particular, will then be separately discussed. As Freud's writings in this area are centred primarily around the Schreber case, particular reference will be made to this case. Finally, the dissertation will consider briefly Schumann's contribution to the development of music.