Dec 2007

Anatomy of an uninspiring essay

Bunch of arse quite frankly.

The essay has been submitted, but I’m not at all satisfied with it. There’s something very interesting to be said about the Schreber case, dear reader, and you’ll not find it in my essay.

In my defence, the reason the essay is so devoid of anything resembling genuine insight or worth is as much down to the restriction on word-count as any deficiency on the part of the writer. Though of course, I would say that.

All the same, just because I failed to do justice to Schreber this time round doesn’t mean I never will. I may well write my thesis on the case, if — and these are big ifs — (a) I can find an approach that appeals to me*; and (b) something else doesn’t capture my imagination before I start work on it.

So what went wrong this time round?

Well firstly, I came to the subject late. Having already mooched around the Existential Critique essay, and for weeks had a fair idea of what I was going to say, I made the decision to write on Schreber based on a single read-through of Freud’s analysis and with only two weeks before the deadline.

That was a big mistake, as I failed to realise that the subject was far bigger than two weeks research would allow. Even if I narrowed the scope radically. Even if I didn’t sleep very much. Which I did. And didn’t.

It’s never a good idea to decide to write to a deadline on a subject whose surface you’ve only scratched. When I started work I simply had no idea that the paper inspired damn-near an entire subgenre of literature. Nor that it would be so bloody interesting.

The second problem, linked to the first, is the simple fact that nothing interesting can be said about Schreber in less than 10,000 words. I’m a verbose writer at the best of times. I know that, and I try to curtail the worst excesses of this tendency. But all the same, it’s just not possible to provide a useful summation just of the basic facts of the case (including the contents of Schreber’s delusions) in less than 5000 words. And then there’s the analysis and observations which, let’s face it, you’d hope would be the bulk of the content.

So there I was three nights ago, 5000 words into a 3000 word essay, and I’d not even got to discussing Freud’s interpretation let alone my own. Twenty pages of scrawled longhand observations as yet untyped.

So I started afresh. I hacked the 5000 word exposition down to 2000, stripping out anything remotely poetic or beautiful, leaving only stunted prose and a sense of missed opportunity. I jettisoned the bulk of the really interesting stuff, concerning the actual content of Schreber’s delusions. Then I pared down the essence of Freud’s analysis to two specific insights; (a) that paranoid psychosis is a result of repressed homosexuality, and (b) that the agents of persecution in the delusions of paranoiacs are projections of childhood relationships.

Let me point out that those are hardly the only two assertions made by Freud, but they are the central ones. And it’s safe to say that they’re not without controversy.

Unfortunately given the limitations of space I was unable to investigate those controversies, nor delve into the numerous other readings of Schreber’s Memoirs, nor examine the implications that Schreber’s construction of a personal mythology has for our understanding of how the rest of us do the same. I didn’t even have space to examine the actual mechanisms by which Freud states the repression and projection take place.

I set the scene, but the plug was pulled before I could shout “action!”

As I say, bunch of arse.

* By this I mean, an approach that provides an opportunity to say something on the case that hasn’t been said before. The Schreber case has had a lot written about it, but far from everything. And I’m convinced there’s still something worthwhile that hasn’t been covered in the existing literature (mind you, I’ve not read it all yet, so perhaps I’m speaking too soon).

Posted in: Opinion