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Home | 2016 | December | Schober?

On the couch

Posted by Richard on UTC 2016-12-09 06:48.

Letting go

The psychologists reading this are surely pondering the possible effects on the personality of a young boy who was sent by his mother to a distant school in another country with another language barely one year after the boy's father had died. The presence of his older brother Axel will have helped, but would young Franz have experienced feelings of maternal rejection? of isolation? of loneliness?

In this respect their ears will prick up when they note a remark of Schober's made much later and reported by an obituary writer in 1882 about his time in Kremsmünster, to the effect that, although his brother Axel could have more or less what he wanted from their mother ('riding horses and equestrian tackle'), Franz – at least, according to him – did not dare to ask her for the few pennies needed to get him better food in the school.

As usual in our Schober biography, we have to scrape the crumbs up from an unsourced secondhand report of something Schober supposedly said about a time 50(?) years before. But, with that necessary health warning, the tale is not without value.

Firstly, this anecdote shows us the boy Schober choosing not to ask and be rebuffed, presumably having been so rebuffed in the past that asking would be more painful than suffering in silence. Secondly, our psychologists have all scribbled 'sibling envy' into their case notes, too. Thirdly, it doesn't really matter whether what Schober says is true or not: the fact that Schober chooses to propagate it after all those years, presumably to garner sympathy for his rejection, is what really interests our psychologist friends. Scribble, scribble go their pens. Did Schober really say this? Is the anecdote true? No idea. But it seems a strange story for someone to make up.

Our psychologists will also be interested in the character of a person who could be 'one of them' in Swedish Torup, in Thuringian Schnepfenthal, in Austrian Kremsmünster and Vienna, in Breslau in Prussian Silesia (now Poland) and then later in Budapest, Weimar, Dresden and Munich. Someone who changes school, town, country and even language every two or three years needs a talent for 'letting go', a talent which may just consist of not even taking hold firmly in the first place. The chameleon capability of 'one of them' implies an 'otherness' that is, in fact, the core of the personality, the personality based on rejection and isolation, the permanent outsider.

The other state

Those who want to dig deeper on this point might consider Robert Musil's (1880-1942) strange, haunting novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, 'The Man without Qualities' (1930-) as an extended treatment of a Schober-like detachment. The protagonist, Ulrich, is always aware of a compartmentalised 'other state'. Such detachment is also at the core of Joseph Roth's (1894-1939) magnificent Radetskymarsch (1932), which is constructed around a family forced to live a lie, always aware of an alternative reality in the middle of present events. Unsurprisingly, Musil and Roth are both Austrians and later both exiles from the country that has given us modern psychiatry.

Which of the chameleon's colours is the real one? Our psychologists observe that the Austrian Schober – the 'Schubert Schober' – represents about 15 young years of Schober's life: in his early thirties he 'let go' of all that and left Austria for good to become 'one of them' in Budapest, Weimar, Dresden etc. – which act tells us that he was not really Austrian at all. Nor Swedish, nor anything else.

They might speculate – for that is all they can do in this difficult case – that Schubert and Schober became such soulmates exactly because they shared this sense of deep isolation. We haven't discussed Schubert's childhood and youth yet. Here we merely observe that his mother had died in 1812 and that, since leaving school, he had been engaged in a running battle with his father and most likely with his stepmother, too, about his future occupation.

Whereas two of his brothers were following the family tradition and making solid careers in education, Franz's immense musical talent had the status of a time-wasting hobby. On a number of occasions we have noted the underlying melancholy and feelings of alienation that haunted him throughout his life. When Schubert and Schober finally met, they would have had a lot to talk about.

Enough: let's leave all that for the shrinks to sort out.

Tight knots, broken fingernails

Patience! Before we can follow our biographical thread further we have to untie a few, very tight knots. In the late 1980s it was asserted by a few scholars that Schubert, Schober, a lot of their friends and a number of pupils in the Kremsmünster church school were homosexual – publicly repressed by the morals of the time but in private active practitioners. We can state here that this assertion is a fantasy based on misunderstandings, misquotations and mistranslations. There is no evidential basis for the assertion whatever. None. In contrast, there is a lot of evidence of heterosexual behaviour. The delusion was solidly refuted by the mid 1990s, but the nonsense keeps popping up in various places to this day.

Which is not to say that, as experience in educational institutions down the ages has shown, if you lock up scores of pubertal boys for years on end in fetid close proximity, 'stuff happens'. Nearly all of the men of the Schubert circles went on to lead soundly heterosexual lives. Yes, yes, we know – the marriages of these 'repressed homosexuals' were all shams and so on and so on.

In June 1814, Franz Schober, that arch-womaniser, then an 18 year-old, was alleged to have been involved in a masturbation scandal (Selbstbefleckung) at Kremsmünster. Quite frankly, it would be surprising if he hadn't gone in for some recreational Selbstbefleckung. Enough: all this talk of callow young boys indulging themselves is giving me the willies.

But unfortunately we are not quite finished with moral turpitude. Our Anglo-Saxon readers may have failed to notice the recent notoriety of the Benedictine Kremsmünster church school as a haven of child abuse: not just rough pedophilia but brutal physical and psychological sadism. The abuse in these cases took place from before the 1970s up to 2000. The Head of Music and a number of other priests and prefects have been imprisoned or punished in various ways.

The most outrageous aspect is that it really was a 'haven' – we chose that word carefully. The principal offender was exposed in 1995 but was allowed to continue most of his duties in contact with pupils for nearly a decade afterwards. The whole problem was hushed up by the Catholic Church with the complicity of the authorities until 2010. Only after considerable pressure by the victims was action taken. The principal offender was finally convicted in 2015.

Were things different in Schober's time? Who knows? The social dynamics of such institutions are essentially the same, then as now, so it seems that a pessimistic view may be the more realistic, that such situations transcend space and time. It doesn't matter: Schubert still wrote his music, Schober still chased women and we can now move on to something sensible.