Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Murdered Father; Dead Father: Revisiting the Oedipus Complex1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Murdered Father; Dead Father: Revisiting the Oedipus Complex1

Article excerpt

This paper recovers the notion of the sacrifice of sexuality as the central, tragic, element of the oedipal structure. This notion has been largely abandoned in the psychoanalytic literature that has tended to reduce the oedipal structure to processes of exclusion. The paper traces the development of the theoretical and clinical transformations of Freud's ideas on the role of the father and suggests that they allow us to more fully comprehend the Oedipus complex proposed by Freud. A paradox is explored: the killing of the father is, in Freud's view, the requirement for the creation of the social order which, from then on, prohibits all killings. The father, however, has to be killed metaphorically only, as the actual exclusion of the father lies at the origin of so many psychopathologies from violence to the psychoses and perversions. The paper analyses the fundamental asymmetry that is present in the Oedipal structure and suggests that the three elements of the oedipal triangle constitute the law (of the dead father, that institutes the sacrifice of sexuality), desire (for the lost object) and identification (with both father and mother). Two clinical examples are discussed. In the first, one can identify a perverse structure in which the father has been murdered; in the second, there is a progressive construction of the dead (symbolic) father in the analytic process.

Keywords: après-coup, dead father, desire, identification, Oedipus complex, sacrifice, sexuality

I. Introduction

This paper recovers the notion of the sacrifice of sexuality as the central, tragic element of the oedipal structure that the author considers has been largely abandoned in the psychoanalytic literature. Freud's work progressively elaborates the role of the father. In Studies on Hysteria (Breuer and Freud, 1895), he emphasizes the importance of a real seduction of his female patients by their father; in The Interpretation of Dreams (Freud, 1900) unconscious phantasies are discovered; Totem and Taboo (Freud, 1913) introduces the notion of the distinction between the murdered father and the dead father; and in Moses and Monotheism (Freud, 1939) Freud puts forward his notion of a more abstract, paternal function. This paper traces the development of these theoretical and clinical transformations and suggests that they allow us to more fully comprehend the Oedipus complex proposed by Freud.

Lacan was the first psychoanalyst who gave conceptual status to the term dead father, utilized by Freud in Totem and Taboo, establishing the equation between the symbolic father and the dead father.2 This line of thinking was further developed by Rosolato (1969) in his distinction between the idealized father and the dead father. Stoloff (2007) traces the progressive development in Freud's work towards a delineation of a paternal function (see also Green, 2008), but it was Jacques Hassoun who proposed the conceptual distinction between the murdered father and the dead father that this paper will explore. The passage from one to the other inaugurates the law and genealogy (Hassoun, 1996, p. 17). I suggest that if the Oedipus story represents the former - the story of the murdered father, and patricide as a universal, infantile phantasy - the Oedipus complex represents the latter - the institution of the dead father as the symbolic third. The shift from the murdered to the dead father represents the attempt to regulate desire and institutes the sacrifice of sexuality. From then on certain categories of kin are excluded from the field of sexual exchange, a fact which constitutes a crucial marker of the beginnings of culture.3 Sexuality within the human group is social as well as psychical, and can never be reduced to biology. In this paper I suggest that the notion of sacrifice is central to the understanding of the Oedipus complex. I will thus indicate the connections between the dead father, the sacrifice of sexuality and the Oedipus complex. …

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