Oedipus complex

The Oedipus complex is a concept developed by Sigmund Freud, who inspired Carl Jung (he described the concept and coined the term "Complex"), to explain the maturation of the infant boy through identification with the father and desire for the mother.

It is based on the Greek myth of Oedipus who kills his father Laius and marries his mother Jocasta. The Oedipus conflict or Oedipus complex was described as a state of psychosexual development and awareness first occurring around the age of 5 and a half years (a period of psychosexual development known as the phallic stage in Freudian theory).

Theory of the Oedipus complex

Relying on material from his self-analysis and on anthropological studies of totemism, Freud developed the Oedipus complex as an explanation of the formation of the ego, the super-ego and the id. The traditional paradigm in a (male) child’s psychological coming-into-being is to first select the mother as the object of libidinal investment. This however is expected to arouse the father's anger, and the infant surmises that the most probable form of expression of this is castration.

The infant internalizes the rules pronounced by his father. This is how the super-ego comes into being. The father now becomes the figure of identification as the child wants to have his phallus, but resigns from his attempts to take the mother, shifting his libidinal attention to new objects of desire.

Carl Gustav Jung claimed that young girls' desire is for the father, known as the Electra complex, which is basically a reverse Oedipus complex. This is often falsely ascribed to Freud. In fact it aroused Freud's anger for he had more complex construction of the female Oedipal complex: The girl is originally attached to the mother as well, however the discovery of the absence of a penis in herself leads to an anger at the mother, who is held responsible. She therefore turns her libidinal attachment on to the father and imagines that she will become pregnant by him. She believes that the pregnancy will replace the missing penis, which she envies and will allow her to gain equal status with the father.

French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan refined this very crude theory in his linguistic theories. He claimed that the position of the father could never be held by the infant. On the one hand the infant must identify with the father, in order to participate in sexual relations. However the infant could also never become the father as this would imply sexual relations with the mother. Through the dictates on the one hand to be the father and on the other not to, the father is elevated to an ideal. He is no longer a real material father, but a function of a father. Lacan terms this the Name-of-the-Father. The same goes for the mother — Lacan no longer talks of a real mother, but simply of desire, which is a desire to return to the undifferentiated state of being together with the mother, before the interference through the Name-of-the-Father.

This desire necessarily lacks something, i.e. it is a desire of lack. The father and accordingly the phallus (not a real penis, but a representation of mastery) can never be reached, thus he is above or outside the language system and cannot be spoken about. All language relies on this absence of the phallus from the system of signification. According to this theory, without a phallus outside of language, nothing in language would make sense or could be differentiated. Thus Lacan remodels the linguistic theory of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It is this idea that forms the basis of much contemporary thought, especially poststructuralism. Nothing can be thought that is outside of language, but the phallus is there and therefore structures the whole system of thought accordingly.

Critiques of the Oedipus Complex

Popular culture often seeks to portray Freud as a pervert and proclaim his theory of the Oedipus Complex utter nonsense. However, considering the tenacious hold it seems to have over our cultural imagination, this seems a rather simplistic way to attack the Oedipus Complex, especially with the interesting refinements added through new generations of psychoanalysts. However there were also always a great deal of critiques of the Oedipus complex within psychoanalysts and among philosophers who acquainted themselves with the work of Freud.

Alfred Adler contended with Freud's belief in the dominance of the sex drive and whether ego drives were libidinal, he also attacked Freud's ideas over repression. Adler believed that the repression theory should be replaced with the concept of ego-defensive tendencies - the neurotic state derived from inferiority feelings and overcompensation of the masculine protest, Oedipal complexes were insignificant.

Feminist theory has mostly rejected Freud's concept of penis envy, either by dismissing psychoanalysis as a project of masculine mastery, by essentializing femininity thus reclaiming difference as an asset, by using psychoanalysis and simply ignoring it, for example by adopting a version of the Electra Complex or an alternative identificatory pattern (e.g. Hlne Cixous) or by adopting / developing more progressive rereadings of Freud, like those of Jacques Lacan (e.g. Juliet Mitchell, Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler).

Philosophers Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, along with radical psychoanalyst Flix Guattari, have used their work to show how internalized power structures are a function of the world order we live in, bent on disciplining the subject. Discipline is meant by Foucault in both its senses, arguing that the science of man has created its own object, relying on Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the will to power. According to this theory the Oedipus Complex can only arise historically under certain conditions.

Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (pt.1) apply this to the dissemination of Freud's Oedipus Complex, which they call Oedipalization. They believe that the capitalist system and psychoanalysis as its tool rely on making people believe in a father, who is more powerful than them and has a phallus, which will always be unobtainable for them. Their idea is that the family structure is the smallest unit of this subjection because now power does not come from a central force like God or a monarch, but is spread over small power units which keep people in submission. Therefore they assume a system of pure immanence without an outside. They believe psychoanalysis is intent on producing neuroses while the capitalist system is really inherently schizophrenic. They propose an escape through anoedipal structures, relying on psychoanalyst Melanie Klein's concept of partial objects and proposing non-centered schizophrenia as a tendency to strive for, displacing psychoanalysis for schizoanalysis.

See also

de:dipuskomplex es:Complejo de Edipo fr:Complexe d'Œdipe he:תסביך אדיפוס it:Complesso di Edipo nl:Oedipuscomplex no:dipuskomplekset ja:エディプスコンプレックス pl:Kompleks Edypa pt:Complexo de dipo ro:Complexul Oedip fi:Oidipuskompleksi sv:Oidipuskomplex zh:恋母情结


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