Eric L. Santner is the Philip and Ida Romberg Professor in Modern Germanic Studies, professor of Germanic studies, and a member of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
The crucial theoretical notion that allows Santner to pass from the "private" domain of psychotic disturbances to the "public" domain of the ideological and political genesis of Nazism is the "crisis of investiture." Schreber's breakdown was precipitated by a malfunction in the rites and procedures through which an individual is endowed with a new social status: his condition became acute just as he was named to a position of ultimate symbolic authority. The Memoirs suggest that we cross the threshold of modernity into a pervasive atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty when acts of symbolic investiture no longer usefully transform the subject's self understanding. At such a juncture, the performative force of these rites of institution may assume the shape of a demonic persecutor, some "other" who threatens our borders and our treasures. Challenging other political readings of Schreber, Santner denies that Schreber's delusional system--his own private Germany--actually prefigured the totalitarian solution to this defining structural crisis of modernity. Instead, Santner shows how this tragic figure succeeded in avoiding the totalitarian temptation by way of his own series of perverse identifications, above all with women and Jews.