Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Oedipus Complex: A Confrontation at the Central Cross-Roads of Psychoanalysis 1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Oedipus Complex: A Confrontation at the Central Cross-Roads of Psychoanalysis 1

Article excerpt

Freud and the theory of the Oedipus complex

For Freud the access to genitality and to the choice of a sexual object in adult life depend fundamentally on one's adequately overcoming the Oedipus complex. This is because both genitality and the choice of an object are not biologically predetermined for human beings. Beyond this, subjects' identities and psychopathologies, as well as their intersubjective and social relations, are at their foundation structured around this complex. The Oedipus complex is thus the nuclear complex, the structural referential focal point of psychic life. If one amalgamates Freud's hypotheses concerning the primal horde's assassination of the father and its group consequences as developed in Totem and Taboo (1913), one can say that the Oedipus complex has given rise to civilization.

This theoretical point of view represents the apogee of Freud's protracted deliberations on this matter. The general Oedipal theory was only definitively established in 1923, and was further developed in Freud's published works between the years 1923 and 1926. It rested on a tripod formed by the concepts of phallic organization, the Oedipus complex, and the castration complex.

I shall outline Freud's theory and then present what seem to me to be the important and original contributions of later authors. I shall attempt to establish the correlations and confrontations of these works with Freud's original proposals and with each other. I have included those authors who I feel have developed formulations that address the general theory of the complex. I shall only provide a historic overview of Freud's conceptualizations, given that his theorizations are taken to be the reference point for the other authors.

Freud's discovery, which was crucial to his own self-analysis and to the development of psychoanalysis, occurred in the autumn of 1897. He described it in his correspondence with Fliess (Masson, 1985). The process began with Freud discarding his theory that neurosis was caused by real trauma occurring in childhood, i.e. trauma based on sexual seduction by one's father, which he announced in his letter to Fliess on September 21st 1897. According to Freud himself, he renounced his earlier theory, because he had never managed to carry an analysis to its 'real conclusion', i.e. to patients' memories of an actual seduction, he realized the impossibility of there being so many perverse fathers (including his own), and because he believed that the unconscious contained no way to of distinguishing between truth and fiction. Immediately after this final affirmation, Freud added something parenthetically that would turn out to be crucial: "Accordingly, there would remain the solution that the sexual fantasy invariably seizes upon the theme of the parents" (Masson, 1985, p. 265).

In the days that followed Freud went on with his self-analysis. But he kept searching for real scenes from the past which could be rescued from his unconscious through the interpretation of his dreams. He discovered that, rather than his father, the person responsible for his neurosis must have been his nurse, who had initiated him sexually. He also affirmed that his libido regarding his mother had been aroused when he was between two or two-and-a-half years of age. During a trip he had slept next to her, and he probably saw her naked. At this point the child's sexual desire for the mother comes on stage.

So, at the same time that Freud examines and comes face-to-face with dilemmas concerning his patients' neuroses, and precisely so as to understand them deeply, he examines his own mental life. And he does this by analyzing his dreams, which he continues to think of as the "royal road" to examining the unconscious.

On 15 October, however, Freud wrote that his self-analysis had suddenly stopped. This stoppage lasted for three days during which he experienced the devastating sensation of 'being tied up inside' (Masson, 1985, p. …

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