In Greek myth Oedipus was the king of Thebes who did his best to avoid a prophecy saying he would kill his father and marry his mother. Like most good tales about knowing the future, Oedipus inadvertently fulfills the prophecy by trying to avoid it.
We see this a lot in sci-fi with time-loop stories. The protagonist does everything possible to avoid a bad outcome but in doing so becomes part of the thread leading to that unwanted outcome.
A lot of people know about Oedipus but the old Greek tale never really grabbed me personally. So I’ll just link to a good summary for the curious.¹
To me, more engaging is the synchronous/synchronistic connection between this entry coming up for revision and my recent interest in “Reelin’ in the Years,” where I’m doing a yearly retrospective of pop tunes I liked from the moment of my birth to 2018. Right now – as I revise this entry – I’m on 1965, where I write “I’m three years old.”
If this sounds weird, let me explain.
The Austrian pioneer of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud began to use the name Oedipus in his work after seeing a performance of Sophocles’ tragic play Oedipus Rex. Some years later he came up with the term, Oedipus complex.
For Freud, an Oedipal complex develops after the male infant becomes fixated to his mother during the Oedipal phase of ego development (ages 3-5).
Here the infant develops bizarre beliefs because, well, he is just a child. He sees or perhaps hears his father and mother lovemaking (called the “primal scene”) and perceives his father as a threat.
His fear intensifies when seeing the father’s penis, leading the child to irrationally assume that he, himself, has been castrated. The child then demonizes the father and identifies with his apparently all-good mother.
He resolves the complex by eventually identifying with the father along with the external, societal demands that the father represents to the child.
Freud believed successfully passing through the Oedipus complex was a natural process.
But if the complex goes unresolved, the man’s choice of – and demands from – lovers and marriage partners in later years reflects his unconscious infantile, mother-based expectations.
These desires are unrealistic and not grounded in reality (the “reality principle”).
Current trends in psychoanalysis trace the Oedipus complex to earlier conflicts (apparently) present in the first few years of psychosexual ego development.
Freud deprecated the term “Electra complex”, which was introduced by Carl Gustav Jung in 1913 in regard to the Oedipus complex manifested in young girls. Freud further proposed that the Oedipus complex, which originally refers to the sexual desire of a son for his mother, is a desire for the parent in both males and females, and that boys and girls experience the complex differently: boys in a form of castration anxiety, girls in a form of penis envy.²
Jacques Lacan and others like George Herbert Mead, Abraham Maslow and Melanie Klein acknowledge the importance of the early childhood shift from a narrow parent-focus to realizing a greater social self. That is, a world out there.
If I get Lacan right, he also says the unconscious unfolds throughout life with a synchrony of signifiers. For me, that means certain markers will appear at the right time³ for personal growth.
So the apparent coincidence of my working on “Reelin’ in the Years” (remembering feelings from age three) and this particular entry coming up for revision fits into both Freudian and Jungian theory—the former as synchrony, the latter as synchronicty.
That’s hardly surprising to me. I believe in not only attaining spiritual knowledge but also in digging deep into the childhood and early teen psyche to uncover any early feelings not entirely dealt with. Too many people, it seems, achieve some kind of functional ‘spirituality’ but not necessarily the best possible kind because they carry so many unresolved issues that their brand of otherworldliness simply covers up.
You know… that psychopath boss at work. He or she has impressive insight or charisma but uses these qualities to cheat, manipulate or steal. Often we can’t really put our finger on it – because clever creeps are great at hiding their secret schemes – but our gut tells us something is terribly wrong.
Some say psychoanalysis is a science, others see it as a sham with little or no empirical support for its fanciful claims. Although the spirit of Freud’s approach still reverberates in psychiatry, especially with the almost unquestioned idea of the “unconscious,” the specifics of Freudian theory have largely fallen by the wayside.
Most countries see psychiatry as a credible discipline with legal powers and responsibilities while non-medical psychologists and humanitarians do not enjoy that kind of pervasive influence.4
³ This is how I understand the Greek word kairos. But probably not everyone would agree here.
4 In Ontario, for instance, psychiatry is covered by OHIP whereas other therapies (such as Jungian and various holistic approaches) are not.
The Enthralling, Anxious World of Vladimir Nabokov’s Dreams (3quarksdaily.com)
White children more likely to suffer mental health issues, study finds (telegraph.co.uk)
Yes, Your Daily Stress Can Haunt Your Dreams (livescience.com)
The Greatest Quest: The Search for Meaning & Finding our Calling. (elephantjournal.com)