Sunday, December 20, 2015
The Oedipus Complex by Wilbur D. Birdwood 1922
The Oedipus Complex by Wilbur D. Birdwood 1922
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Advanced students of psychoanalysis have, of course, recognized for a good many pages back the true nature of the Grandmother Complex. They have understood that the Grandmother Complex is only another form of the Oedipus Complex; only much more so.
For the benefit of beginners in psychoanalysis it may be permitted to explain just what is this Oedipus Complex, in a few brief but vivid words.
The Oedipus Complex is the neural mix-up which accounts for the familiar fact that children are more strongly attracted to the parent of the opposite sex. The son is fonder of his mother; the daughter is more strongly drawn to her father.
But to say fonder is to put it mildly. At bottom every Freudian knows that every normal son would like to see his father dead and every normal daughter would like to see her mother dead. This pleasant truth has been established by the special researches of Freud’s famous collaborator, Friedrich Jung. Hence the expression, the Jung Generation.
The name for this charming little Complex comes, of course, from Oedipus. He is known in Greek legend as the hero of three exceptionally difficult feats: he slew his own father; he married his own mother (both in ignorance, to be sure); and he answered the riddle of the Sphinx, which no one before him had been able to solve.
The story of Oedipus was utilized by the Greek dramatists for a number of tragedies. The Greeks called them tragedies because the Greeks lived in the days before Freud and were the slaves of certain established prejudices concerning the proper relations between parents and children. Today we would call these plays Social Comedies.
The basic truth of the Oedipus Complex is confirmed by everyday experience. Approximately one-half of my readers, for example, must at some time have been little boys. Such readers will have not the least difficulty in recalling their experiences with measles or scarlet fever. Upon such occasions, when they were particularly feverish or otherwise ill-at-ease, they almost invariably called for Mother. It is also a well-authenticated fact that wounded soldiers in their delirium most frequently call for their mothers.
On the other hand, those of my readers who were once little girls, will recall that on occasions during the summer vacation when they were confronted by a strange dog, or an infuriated hen, or a cow whose intentions were doubtful, they almost invariably called for Daddy.
The author may be pardoned for citing an instance of the Oedipus Complex from his own experience. He will never forget how during his bitter struggles with the first book of Euclid, it was almost invariably his father who insisted that the boy finish his prescribed lessons before he went to bed, whereas his mother would argue that the boy had had a hard day, and it was more important for him to be in bed by nine o’clock, not forgetting to brush his teeth before retiring.
There were other times when the boy would turn to his father for assistance in arriving at the truth that from any point outside of a line only one perpendicular can be drawn to that line. His father would begin buoyantly enough. He would study the text for a minute or two. Then his face would grow stern and he would remind the boy roughly that it was dishonest for a school boy to solicit help in preparing his home-work.
His mother, on the contrary, would either help him out with the perpendicular or else say that it was time to go to bed, not omitting the tooth-brush. As a result, all through high-school the author recalls that his feelings for his mother were much more tender than for his father.
To be sure, it did not go so far as the boy’s wishing that his father were dead. But he did have dreams in which his father used to ride an old-fashioned bicycle on a tight-rope, condemned to solve innumerable problems about a perpendicular from a point in the handle-bar to said tightrope.
The Oedipus Complex has not been without its critics. They argue that frequently a little boy when pursued by a mad hen, will call for Daddy instead of Mother. They cite the case of little girls who, in dangerous proximity to a strange cow, will call for Mamma. But such examples must be dismissed as irrelevant.
Neither is there much force in the contention that sons are more attached to their mothers because of a protective male instinct, and daughters are more attached to their fathers because of a feminine mother-instinct. Everybody has been saying this for thousands of years and it therefore cannot be true.
The only real difficulty we encounter is in the case of young children, who are asked by visitors whom they like better, Mother or Daddy, and who reply, “I like Mamma and Daddy best.” The explanation of this will most likely be found in a super-Oedipus Complex.
One apparent omission we do encounter in the handling of the Oedipus Complex by the psychoanalysts. They never touch upon the story of Oedipus and the riddle of the Sphinx.
It will be recalled that the Sphinx asked Oedipus: What animal walks on four feet in the morning, on two feet at noon, and on three feet at night. Oedipus replied that the animal is Man; he crawls on all fours in infancy, walks erect in manhood, and leans upon a staff in old age.
Up to recently this answer may have been deemed sound enough; but now we see it to be false. For if Freudianism has taught us anything, it has taught us that man is an animal who never walks erect, but is always crawling around in the mud.
As a matter of fact, psychoanalysis does concern itself with the riddle of the Sphinx without mentioning it by name; and with a certain difference.
In the old Greek legend, Oedipus discovered the answer to the riddle.
In our own psychoanalytic science Oedipus is himself the answer.
What is life? Oedipus Complex. What is thought? Oedipus Complex. What is health, disease, love, hate, cruelty, martyrdom? Oedipus. What is art, literature, war, the pulpit, the professor’s chair, the bacteriologist’s microscope? Oedipus. Why does the writer write, the engineer build, the mathematician draw figures, the poet sing, the subway guard howl, the conservative conserve, the radical protest, the middle-of—the-road man stay in the middle? Oedipus.
Implanted in man is this passion for finding a single answer to the riddle of everything. At different times the answer has been providence, fate, chance, fire, water, air, earth, the atom, the electron, the amoeba. Often it has been ouija, the violet ray, internal bathing, the Kneipp cure, mineral oil, bran, Fletcherism, the bicycle, the automobile, the Soviet, the simple life, the daily dozen, the solar plexus. Always it has been a single magic word to satisfy all of the Sphinx’s questionings.
Today Freud has given us the real answer, the all-sufficient answer. What is anything, and why, and how? Ans. Oedipus.
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