R. Gray
German 390/Comp. Lit. 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

"Freud and the Literary Imagination"

Lecture Notes: The Oedipus Complex

I. The Five Libidinal Phases of a Child’s Psycho-Sexual Development
(See Handout: to view handout, click here)

II. The Oedipus Complex

A. Background: Sophocles (c. 495-406 BC): Oedipus Rex
-- Analytical Play: recounts events leading up to present circumstances.
-- Oedipus solves riddle of the Sphinx, frees Thebes of pestilence, and is pronounced king.
-- He marries Queen Jocasta, whose husband, Laius, has been murdered.
-- New pestilence occurs: Murderer of Laius must be identified and banished.
-- Blind seer Teiresias names Oedipus as Laius's murderer.
-- Revelation: Oedipus abandoned as child due to prophecy: he would murder his father and marry his mother. Rescued from death by mother.
-- Oedipus unwittingly murdered Laius, who turns out to be his biological father. Jocasta is his mother. She hangs herself upon this revelation.
-- As punishment, Oedipus stabs out his own eyes and goes into exile from Thebes: blindness tied dialectically to insight (Teiresias).

Freud as Oedipus? Parallel between Oedipus and the Motives of Psychoanalysis

Oedipus (in Prologue): "Then once more I must bring what is dark to light."
-- Parallel to Freudian project of psychoanalysis;
-- Oedipus as the "great interpreter"; but his interpretation sheds light ultimately on himself;
-- This is also the paradigm of psychoanalysis: exposing secrets, task of "detective," who ultimately exposes his own "guilt".

Oedipus Rex as a kind of nodal point of Freudian themes: the "myth" underlying psychoanalysis as interpretive project—it is a literary myth, one of literary origin.

Freudian themes:
1) Oedipus as representative of all people (of his Theban subjects);
2) truth as "dreadful"; yet we are driven to expose this dreadful truth;
3) Oedipus as self-tormentor; (this is the thesis of psychoanalysis)
4) resurgence of "shadowy memory" and its repression (murder of Laius at crossroads);
5) Oedipus: "The flooding pain of memory, never to be gouged out."; irrepressibility of memory, its association with pain and trauma;
6) Jocasta: "How many men, in dreams, have lain with their mothers!"

B. Two Fundamental Features of the Oedipal Complex

  1. 1) Triangular structure between the child and the parents:

father> <mother

  1. 2) Constitutional bisexuality of all human beings
    -- This is what allows the identification of the child with both parents, regardless of biological sex of the child.
    -- Implication: Sexuality is the sole basis of loving affection, attraction.

C. Four Positions of Child in Oedipus Complex:

1) Identification with FATHER AS SUBJECT.

2) Identification with MOTHER AS SUBJECT.



BOYS tend toward 1) and 4)

GIRLS tend toward 2) and 3)

Oedipal situation: child must sort out these conflicting impulses.
A) Orientation toward a specific subject position;
B) Choice of an appropriate libidinal object ("cathexis" [German: Besetzung] = investment of libido in someone or something).

D. Phase One of the Oedipal Complex (gender neutral)

    1. Boy develops love ("object-cathexis," in Freud’s terminology) for his mother
      = libidinal bond with the mother.
      -- This is tied to the fixation on the mother’s breast, its role as a source of nourishment, the mother as the font of love, caring, etc.
    2. Parallel to this the boy begins to identify with his father, the figure parallel to him in terms of biological sex. (Identification with the father's role as "lover" of mother.)
    3. In this phase, these 2 relationships co-exist side-by-side and in relative harmony.
    4. Four possible "options" among which the child can choose:

      2 subject positions: Identification with father; identification with mother

      2 choices of object: mother or father as object of libidinal investment.

E. The full-blown Oedipal complex can take on either of two forms, the so-called "positive" ("true") or "negative" Oedipal relationship. To view a diagram, click here.

    1. For both these manifestations, the transition is characterized by an intensification in the boy's affections for his mother.
    2. These affections ultimately become so powerful that the boy begins to see the father, the love-object of the mother, as an obstacle and a rival.
      -- This marks the beginning of the true Oedipal conflict = hostility develops toward the father, culminating in a desire to get rid of the him, to kill him.
      -- The boy desires above all to take the father's place as an object of affection for the mother.
    3. But the boy's attitude toward the father is never completely hostile; he continues to identify with the father as he did in phase one, but this identification is now supplemented, not replaced, by feelings of rivalry and hostility.
      -- This leads to profound ambivalence on the part of the boy.
    4. This is the "normal" psycho-sexual development of a little boy.
      -- It leads, according to Freud, to the "masculinization" of the boy.
      -- This is the "positive" Oedipal complex.
    5. But there also exists simultaneously the possibility of what Freud calls the "negative" Oedipus complex.

      The "negative" Oedipus complex (Female Model)
      -- Girl's libidinal investments emerge in pattern opposite to boy's.
      -- Girl invests her libido in the father as object.
      -- She simultaneously assumes the subject-position of the mother, taking an affectionate, "feminine" attitude toward the father.
      -- This results in JEALOUSY of and HOSTILITY toward the mother.
      -- BOYS can also follow this pattern. This is the reason for the designation "negative." In this manifestation, the boy exhibits "girl-like" behavior = he assumes an affectionate, feminine attitude toward the father (instead of feeling ambivalence) and develops jealousy or even hostility toward the mother. According to Freud, this can lead to homosexuality.
      -- Similarly, GIRLS can follow the (for them) "false" pattern, the one usually pursued by boys (the "positive" Oedipal Complex).
      -- Thus, whether the Oedipus complex ends in a positive or negative result determines the future sexual identity of the child.
      -- CONSTITUTIONAL BISEXUALITY as reason for potential to pursue either path.

F. Dissolution of the Oedipal Complex

1. In "normal" development the Oedipus complex is dissolved or destroyed; if it is merely repressed, this can lead to an abnormal sexual development (see Freud Reader 664).
-- The son now identifies with the father; he no longer views him as a rival.
-- The son develops affection for, not libidinal attraction to the mother. The sexual libido directed toward the mother has been "aim-inhibited"; it is sublimated and becomes non-sexual affection.
> The son seeks a female (sexual) partner other than the mother.

2. Results:
-- Incest taboo established;
-- Super-ego created;
-- Libidinal attachment to the mother is SUBLIMATED into sexual attraction for other women (substitutes);
-- Son successfully REPLICATES (reproduces, but does not "imitate") the father/mother relationship.

G. "Anatomy is Destiny": The Castration Complex

Tied to the phallic stage of psycho-sexual development.

1) Castration complex dissolves the phallic stage and leads into latency stage; it constitutes the primary motivator for the dissolution of the Oedipus Complex.
-- Why castration? In “phallic phase,” phallus as source of physical pleasure: urination, bed-wetting.

2) Sources of the castration complex:
-- punishment for masturbation
-- punishment for bed-wetting
-- Parental discipline: "If you don’t stop doing that, we’ll get rid of it (the penis, the hand)."

3) This fear or threat becomes real upon the observation of the female genitalia, which appear to be "castrated"
-- Note that Freud takes the presence of the penis to be the sexual "norm" and assumes that this "norm" is part of our constitutional make-up. "More is better!" Girl sees herself as not "well endowed"; the clitoris as a miniature, shrunken penis.

4) "Anatomy is destiny" (Freud Reader 665): this statement holds for Freudian psycho-theory.

5) Boy: Intense conflict between narcissistic self-interest (retaining the source of his pleasure, the penis) and libidinal investment in parental love-object.
-- Boy sacrifices parental love to retain source of his pleasure, the penis. This narcissism (pleasure principle) plays a fundamental role in the dissolution of the Oedipal Complex and the ascension to "normal" sexual identity.

6) Girls accept "fact" of their own castration; but they seek compensation for the "lost" penis; they find this in the baby upon whom they can heap affection.
-- Implication: The sense of "motherhood" results from the castration complex, the sense of "loss" or "inadequacy" based on an "inferior" physical endowment in the genital region.

III. The Emergence of the Super-Ego (or Ego-Ideal)

A. The super-ego is born at the moment the Oedipus complex is dissolved.

1) Super-ego = moral conscience, self-disciplining mechanism; it operates by producing a sense of guilt.

2) The super-ego is formed by a process Freud calls "introjection" = the internalization of parental, especially paternal authority.
-- The authority of the father is assimilated by the son into his own psychic constitution.

3) The super-ego is a form of mimesis, imitation of the father; but this imitation also caries with it the prohibition of being exactly like the father.
-- Father imitated generically, but not individually = the son must learn to be his own person, similar (in kind) to the father, but not exactly like him.

4) The super-ego is the source of religious feelings: it is a substitute for the lost father, just as for Freud "God" is a substitute for the lost father.

5) Super-ego forms the basis of social bonding = we feel closer to those whose super-egos have a similar constitution to our own.

B. Consequences of Creation of the Super-ego.

    1) The super-ego is the source of religious feelings: it is a substitute for the lost father, just as for Freud "God" is a substitute for the lost father.

    2) Super-ego forms the basis of social bonding = we feel closer to those whose super-egos have a similar constitution to our own.
    -- Common disciplinary rules as the basis for social bonding;
    -- Not similar "egos," but similar super-egos form sense of community;
    -- "Culture" as shared sense of discipline; also basis of sense of community.

    3) The super-ego is allied with the id. This re-maps the conflictual terrain of the psyche.
    -- The id/ego conflicts that shape the early development of the child give way to super-ego/ego conflicts.
    -- No longer just pleasure principle versus reality principle; demands of the super-ego, which call for renunciation, must also be met.

    4) Shift in psychoanalytic theory from id-analysis to ego-analysis: no longer just drives and instincts that are psychoanalytically significant, but also (semi-)conscious operations in the psyche.
    -- Displacement of conflict to a "higher" terrain: Struggle of individual becomes a cultural or communal struggle.

    5) Freud elucidates this by referring to Wilhelm von Kaulbach's (1805-1874) painting "The Battle of the Huns." (Freud Reader 645)
    To view the painting, click here.
    -- The defeated Huns in the lower portion of the painting continue their struggle (in spirit, as it were) in the upper portion.