The Oedipus Complex - A Selection of Classic Articles on Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory
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The Oedipus Complex - A Selection of Classic Articles on Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory


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eBook - ePub

The Oedipus Complex - A Selection of Classic Articles on Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytical Theory


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This book contains classic material dating back to the 1900s and before. The content has been carefully selected for its interest and relevance to a modern audience. Carefully selecting the best articles from our collection we have compiled a series of historical and informative publications on the subject of psychology. The titles in this range include "The Psychology of Nervous Disorders" "Paranoia and Psychoanalysis" "The Psychological Treatment of Children" and many more. Each publication has been professionally curated and includes all details on the original source material. This particular instalment, "The Oedipus Complex" contains information on psychoanalysis. It is intended to illustrate aspects of the Oedipus complex and serves as a guide for anyone wishing to obtain a general knowledge of the subject and understand the field in its historical context. We are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork.

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The Symbolic Representation of the Pleasures and Reality Principles in the Oedipus Myth1

SCHOPENHAUER writes:2 “Every work has its origin in a happy thought, and the latter gives the joy of conception; the birth, however, the carrying out, is, in my own case at least, not without pain; for then I stand before my own soul, like an inexorable judge before a prisoner lying on the rack, and make it answer until there is nothing left to ask. Almost all the errors and unutterable follies of which doctrines and philosophies are so full seem to me to spring from a lack of this probity. The truth was not found, not because it was unsought, but because the intention always was to find again instead some preconceived opinion or other, or at least not to wound some favourite idea, and with this aim in view subterfuges had to be employed against both other people and the thinker himself. It is the courage of making a clean breast of it in face of every question that makes the philosopher. He must be like Sophocles’ Oedipus, who, seeking enlightenment concerning his terrible fate, pursues his indefatigable enquiry, even when he divines that appalling horror awaits him in the answer. But most of us carry in our hearts the Jocasta, who begs Oedipus for God’s sake not to enquire further; and we give way to her, and that is the reason why philosophy stands where it does.3 Just as Odin at the door of hell unceasingly interrogates the old prophetess in her grave, disregarding her opposition and refusals and prayers to be left in peace, so must the philosopher interrogate himself without mercy. This philosophical courage, however, which is the same thing as the sincerity and probity of investigation that you attribute to me, does not arise from reflection, cannot be wrung from resolutions, but is an inborn trend of the mind.”
The deep and compressed wisdom of these remarks deserves to be discussed, and to be compared with the results of psycho-analysis.
What Schopenhauer says about the psychical attitude requisite for scientific (philosophical) production sounds like the application of Freud’s formula about the “principles of psychical happenings”4 to the theory of Science. Freud distinguishes two such principles: the pleasure-principle, which in the case of primitive beings (animals, children, savages), as in that of the more primitive mental states (in dreams, wit, phantasy, neurosis, psychosis) plays the leading part and allows processes to come about that only strive for the shortest way of gaining pleasure, while the psychical activity of acts that might create feelings of unpleasantness (Unlust) is withdrawn (repression); then the reality-principle, which presupposes a higher development and growth of the psychical apparatus, and has as its characteristic that “in place of the repression, which excluded a number of the incoming ideas as creative of unpleasantness (Unlust), impartial judgment appears, which has to decide whether a given idea is true or false, i. e. in harmony with reality or not, and which decides by comparison with the memory-traces of reality.”
Only one kind of thought activity remains free from the tests of reality, even after the inauguration of the higher principle, and subject solely to the pleasure-principle, namely, phantasy, while it is Science that is most successful in overcoming the pleasure-principle.5
Schopenhauer’s opinion, quoted above, on the mental disposition requisite for scientific activity would therefore run somewhat as follows if converted into Freud’s terminology: the thinker may (and should) give his phantasy play, so as to be able to taste the “joy of conception”—new ideas are of course not to be had in any other way6—, but in order that these phantastic notions may evolve into scientific ideas they must first be submitted to a laborious testing by reality.
Schopenhauer recognised with acute perception that the greatest resistances raised against unprejudiced testing of reality, even in the case of a scientist, are not of an intellectual, but of an affective nature. Even the scientist has human failings and passions: vanity, jealousy, moral and religious bias tending to blind him to a truth that is disagreeable to him; and he is only too inclined to regard as true an error that fits his personal system.
Psycho-analysis can only complement Schopenhauer’s postulate in a single point. It has found that the inner resistances may be fixed in the earliest childhood and may be completely unconscious; it therefore demands of every psychologist who enters on the study of the human mind that he should thoroughly investigate beforehand his own mental constitution—inborn and acquired—down to the deepest layers and with all the resources of the analytic technique.
Unconscious affects, however, may falsify the truth not only in psychology, but also in all other sciences, so we have to formulate Schopenhauer’s postulate as follows: Everyone who works in Science should first submit himself to a methodical psychoanalysis.
The advantages that would accrue to Science from this deepened self-knowledge on the part of the scientist are evident. An enormous amount of power for work, which is now wasted on infantile controversies and priority disputes, could be put at the disposal of more serious aims. The danger of “projecting into Science as a generally valid theory peculiarities of one’s own personality” (Freud7) would be much less. The hostile manner also in which, even nowadays, new unusual ideas or scientific propositions are received when put forward by unknown authors, unsupported by any authoritative personality, would give way to a more unprejudiced testing by reality. I will go so far as to maintain that, if this rule of self-analysis were observed, the development of the various sciences, which today is an endless series of energy-wasting revolutions and reactions, would pursue a much smoother, yet a more profitable and an accelerated course.
It cannot be regarded as chance that the Oedipus myth immediately occurred to Schopenhauer when he wished to illustrate by a simile the correct psychical attitude of the scientist in mental production and the inner resistances that arise against this correct way of working. Had he been—as we analysts are—convinced of the strict determination and determinability of every psychical act, this thought would surely have made him reflect. For us, who are the fortunate possessors of the Freudian psychology (which like a mental Dietrich provides a ready key to so many locks that have till now been considered impossible to open), it is not at all difficult to retrieve this piece of analysis. This idea that occurred to Schopenhauer indicates his unconscious perception of the fact that of all inner resistances by far the most significant is the resistance against the infantile fixation on hostile tendencies against the father and on incestuous ones towards the mother.
These tendencies, which through the civilised education of the race and of the individual have become intensely disagreeable, and have therefore been repressed, draw with them into the repression a large number of other ideas and tendencies associated with these complexes, and exclude them from the free interchange of thought, or at all events no longer allow them to be treated with scientific objectivity.
The “Oedipus complex” is not only the nuclear complex of the neuroses (Freud); the kind of attitude adopted towards it also determines the most important character traits of the normal man, and in part also the greater or lesser objectivity of the scientist. A man of science who is prevented by the incest barrier from admitting to himself nascent inclinations of love and disrespect towards blood-relations will—so as to assure the repression of these inclinations—also not want, nor be able, to test in their reality with the impartiality demanded by Science the actions, works, and thoughts of other authorities as well as the paternal one.
To decipher the feeling and thought content that lies behind the wording of the Oedipus myth was thus beyond even the power of a Schopenhauer, otherwise so discerning. He overlooked the fact—as did the whole civilised world until Freud—that this myth is a distorted wish phantasy, the projection of repressed wish-excitations (father-hate, mother-love) with an altered pleasure-prefix (abhorrence, shuddering awe) on to an external power, “fate.” This reconstruction of the real meaning of the myth, its interpretation as a “material phenomenon” (Silberer), was thus alien to the philosopher. While writing this letter he was himself dominated—so I believe—by affects that would have debarred this insight.
The actual occasion that led Schopenhauer to chose this comparison of himself with Oedipus may be divined from the other parts of the letter. The neglected philosopher saw himself recognised for the first time by a man of Goethe’s greatness and standing. He answered him with expressions of gratitude that we are not accustomed to from the proud, self-confident Schopenhauer: “Your Excellency’s kind letter has given me great pleasure, because everything coming from you is for me of inestimable value, a sacred possession. Further, your letter contains the praise of my work, and your approval outweighs in my estimation that of any other.”
That sounds absolutely like the enthusiastic gratitude of one man to an older respected one in whom he hopes to find the long-sought protector, i. e. to find again the father. Besides God, King, and national heroes, heroes of the spirit like Goethe are also “revenants” of the father for countless men, who transfer to them all the feelings of gratitude and respect that they once shewed to their bodily father. The subsequent quotation of the Oedipus myth, however, may well have been an unconscious reaction against this—perhaps rather extravagant—expression of gratitude towards the father, a reaction that allowed some display of the hostile tendencies that go to make up the fundamentally ambivalent feeling-attitude of a son towards his father. In favour of this view speaks the fact that towards the end the letter becomes more and more proud and self-confident. Schopenhauer there asks Goethe to secure the publication of his chief work (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), and now speaks to him as to an equal; he lays a eulogising emphasis on the unusual value of his book, the remarkable nature of its contents, and the beauty of its style, closing with a few cool, business-like lines, which might perhaps be called brusque. “I will ask you please to give me a quite decisive answer without delay, because in case you do not accept my proposal I will commission someone who is going to the Leipsic fair to seek a publisher there for me.”
Perhaps it was just the aid of the attention that had been deviated from the concrete meaning that enabled Schopenhauer to decipher in this letter the “functional symbolism” (which for some time escaped even psycho-analysts) of certain details of the Oedipus myth.
Silberer gives the name of functional symbol-phenomena to those pictures occurring in dreams, phantasies, myths, etc., in which not the content of thought and imagination, but the way of functioning of the mind (e. g. its ease, difficulty, inhibition, etc) is indirectly represented.8
If we allow Schopenhauer’s comparison and translate it into analytical-scientific language, we have to say that the two chief ...


  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Psychoanalysis - Its Theories and Practical Application. A. A. Brill
  6. The Technique of Psychoanalysis. Smith Ely Jelliffe
  7. The Structure and Meaning of Psychoanalysis and Related to Personality and Behaviour. William Healy
  8. Sex in Psychoanalysis. Sandor Ferenczi
  9. Psychological Methods of Healing - An Introduction to Psychotherapy. William Brown