Freudian Mythologies: Greek Tragedy and Modern Identities

Freudian Mythologies: Greek Tragedy and Modern Identities

Freudian Mythologies: Greek Tragedy and Modern Identities

Freudian Mythologies: Greek Tragedy and Modern Identities

Synopsis

More than a hundred years ago, Freud made a new mythology by revising an old one: Oedipus, in Sophocles' tragedy the legendary perpetrator of shocking crimes, was an Everyman whose story of incest and parricide represented the fulfilment of universal and long forgotten childhood wishes. TheOedipus complex - child, mother, father - suited the nuclear families of the mid-twentieth century. But a century after the arrival of the psychoanalytic Oedipus, it might seem that modern lives are very much changed. Typical family formations and norms of sexual attachment are changing, while theconditions of sexual difference, both biologically and socially, have undergone far-reaching modifications. Today, it is possible to choose and live subjective stories that the first psychoanalytic patients could only dream of. Different troubles and enjoyments are speakable and unspeakable;different selves are rejected, discovered, or sought. Many kinds of hitherto unrepresented or unrepresentable identity have entered into the ordinary surrounding stories through which children and adults find their bearings in the world, while others have become obsolete. Biographical narrativesthat would previously have seemed unthinkable or incredible--'a likely story!'--have acquired the straightforward plausibility of a likely story. This book takes two Freudian routes to think about some of the present entanglements of identity. First, it follows Freud in returning to Greek tragedies - Oedipus and others - which may now appear strikingly different in the light of today's issues of family and sexuality. And second, itre-examines Freud's own theories from these newer perspectives, drawing out different strands of his stories of how children develop and how people change (or don't). Both kinds of mythology, the classical and the theoretical, may now, in their difference, illuminate some of the forming stories ofour contemporary world of serial families, multiple sexualities, and new reproductive technologies.

Excerpt

A century after the arrival of Freud's Oedipus, it might seem that modern lives are very different from what they were then. Typical family formations and norms of sexual attachment have changed and are changing, while the conditions of sexual difference, both biologically and socially, have undergone far-reaching modifications. Today, it is possible to choose and live subjective stories that the first psychoanalytic patients could only dream of. Different troubles and enjoyments are speakable and unspeakable; different selves are rejected, discovered, or sought. Many kinds of hitherto unrepresented or unrepresentable identity have entered into the ordinary surrounding stories through which children and adults find their bearings in the world. Biographical narratives that would previously have seemed unthinkable or incredible—'a likely story!'—have acquired the straightforward plausibility of a likely story.

At the same time, normal patterns of behaviour that previously appeared as timelessly natural may now have the dated feel of the historical curiosity; they in their turn have come to verge on the incredible or the obsolete. This leads to a question about how or whether the fundamental determinations of identity have changed—or what, if any, they might be. How fixed are the myths or ideologies through which, consciously or unconsciously, people understand their place in their world? How do people change, or fail to change—both individually, and in the slow time of history through which characters and their typical stories come and go? Conversely, how do the stories change through which we grasp such characters, ourselves included—as individuals, as pairs, or as collectivities?

This book turns back to Freud to look at the ways in which he was himself engaged with such issues. In the light of present-day questions about new forms and conditions of life history, different emphases may show up or seem to be adumbrated in his writing, while others may . . .

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