The Oedipus Complex: Revisions and Responses.

There have been many re-interpretations of the Oedipus complex over the one hundred years since its first formulation, and it will be sufficient here to discuss only the most important ones. Most of these observations were not intended to destroy the complex entirely but rather to suggest some ways in which it could be reviewed and revised.

OEDIPUS AT THE MARGINS: Carl Gustav Jung and analytical psychology.

"We are certainly getting ahead: if I am Moses then you are Joshua and will take possession
of the promised land of psychiatry, which I shall only be able to glimpse from afar."
- Freud to Carl Gustav Jung, January17 1909.

"I accede to your wish that we abandon our personal relations, for I never thrust
my friendship on anyone. You yourself are the best judge of what this moment means
to you. 'The rest is silence'."
- Jung to Freud, January 6 1913.

As we have seen, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was the most promising early follower of Freud who turned against him, the Darth Vader to Freud's Obi Wan Kenobi. Born in Kesswil, Switzerland, Jung was the eldest surviving child of an unhappy union between a country parson, Paul Jung, and Emilie Preiswerk, a Hebrew professor's daughter. Little is known about his early years, thought such data as is available serves to show him as an imaginative but lonely child who, lacking siblings (his only sister was born when he was nine), isolated himself from his schoolmates and took to constructing elaborate fantasy games alone. His father died the same year as Freud's, leaving the twenty-year-old as head of the family. It was around this time that he developed an interest in spiritualism and began to participate in a series of seances with the assistance of a fifteen-year-old cousin, Helene Preiswerk, who was said to be a medium. His interest later shifted to psychiatry, and he applied for a post at the famed Burgholzli Psychiatric Hospital in Zurich, where he was working when he met Freud.

The tensions in Freud and Jung's relationship were actually evident to the attentive observer from the beginning. Freud was annoyed by Jung's refusal to acknowledge his position as the infallible "father of psychoanalysis" and disliked Jung's attempts to analyse his dreams on the trip to America in 1909. He resented having to reveal personal information and told Jung that he could not "risk his authority". Jung thought that Freud's refusal meant that he lost all credibility as a psychoanalyst: "That [statement] burned itself into my memory; and in it the end of our relationship was already foreshadowed" (1). Freud fainted twice in Jung's presence (as he had earlier with Fliess), once immediately before the voyage to America and again in the Park Hotel in Munich, where he had once gone with Fliess, in 1912. Freud thought this must be due to some "unruly homosexual feeling" between the two of them (2). Jung had thought the same thing earlier, describing his early attraction to Freud as "a religious crush" (3). A clear homoerotic current underlies their correspondence (4), and, as Freud had found in his relationship with Fliess, this element may have served to draw them apart. Because Jung may have desired Freud, he liked to spread rumours about his sex life - the story that he had an affair with Minna originated from Jung.

Jung's alleged anti-Semitism (or "aggressive pro Aryanism" as Paul Ferris describes it (5)) was also a factor in the break. At first Freud viewed the conflict with him as generated by racial tensions, then rejected the view that Jews and Gentiles should produce "different" sciences. However, for the Nazis twenty years after the split, Jung, big, blond and blue-eyed, seemed the perfect candidate to spread a new "Aryan psychology" to stamp out the psychology of the persecuted Jews. Certain of his writings of this period (especially Wotan of 1934) contain material that is favourable towards the Nazis - he once enthusiastically described Hitler as "a mouthpiece of the gods of old" (6). His relationship with them has remained controversial, since his later admission that "I slipped up" (7) over the Nazi era hardly helps to resolve the debate.

Jung maintained that psychoanalysis is supposed to change and adapt so at first objected to his ideas being seen as "different" or constituting a "split" from the psychoanalytical school. However, after his resignation from the International Psychoanalytical Association, Jung stopped claiming that his views were compatible with psychoanalysis and instead referred to his version as "analytical psychology". Like Freud, Jung let the neurotic elements of his character guide him. He did his most valuable work in his depression after the break up in his own "confrontation with the unconscious", involving intensive dream interpretation and conversations with imaginary figures whom Jung believed represented alternate parts of his own personality. Jung had always thought that Freud put too much emphasis on sexual themes and rejected from the first the view that all mental disturbances could be explained by reference to sexuality since in the more extreme psychotic states such as schizophrenia the loss of reality was so total that it must involve other instinctual forces too (8). Instead Jung came to argue for a concept of libido based around psychic energy, presenting it as general life force that motivates everything we do. Freud was slow to recognise the persistence of Jung's reservations here due to his impassioned belief that he had found a successor, but he did not find it so easy to disregard Jung's criticisms of his theory of infantile sexuality.

Jung saw sexual life as divided into three rather than five phases (9). The first of these is the presexual stage, which lasts from birth to around five years of age and is dominated almost exclusively by the functions of nutrition and growth. For Jung, breastfeeding was a nutritional rather than a sexual act - the child loves its mother for her protecting rather than her alluring qualities. Jung also asserted that we cannot argue for a specifically sexual libido during this phase as Freud did. The second stage (from five onwards) corresponds roughly to Freud's latency period (which Jung considered an "impossible supposition" as sexuality could hardly be taken back into the self before it was properly formed and then emerge again fully developed (10)). This stage extends up until adolescence, and it is only here that the germs of sexual instinct appear, to develop in the third stage (from puberty onward), where the individual will reach sexual maturity. In many ways this third stage was for Jung the most important one, involving a series of mental changes even in old age, whereas for Freud all major development essentially stopped when full biological growth was attained.

Since Jung believed that a child's early life was completely non-sexual, he refused to see the Oedipus complex as attaining primary importance in the formation of a neurosis (11). He argued that forbidden wishes from long ago childhood could not in themselves cause a trauma but were mere by-products of a conflict in the present life of the subject: thus whilst for Freud infantile fantasies created neurosis, for Jung neurosis created infantile fantasies. Jung also introduced a new way of regarding the incest wish. In his famous book Symbols of Transformation (1912), which hastened the break with Freud, he portrayed incest as a symbol of spiritual rebirth rather than as a literal desire. The son wishes to return to his mother not so he can copulate with her but so that he can re-enter the womb and emerge again revitalised (12). Freud, in a rather bizarre formulation, attempted to interpret Jung's revisions as a literal rejection of the Oedipal father (i.e. himself), in a battle over the "beautiful mother" of psychoanalysis - thus it was Jung's own Oedipus complex that caused him to reject the Oedipus complex! (13).

Both Freud and Jung saw that the mythic literature of every culture abounded in references to incest, parricide and castration, and concluded from this that both religious and pagan myths, like dreams, contained a reflection of the unconscious phantasies common to all mankind. Events such as the primal scene and primal murder were therefore "phylogenetic" - imprinted onto all of our minds to be passed on to successive generations. However, in general Freud gave priority to the acquired contents of the unconscious, whilst Jung made this inherited "collective unconscious" a central tenet of his theory. He came to believe that most images in the unconscious drew influences from the whole of human history and culture and could often be of revelatory character.

In sharp contrast to Freud, the eternal atheist, Jung stressed the importance of religious belief. He urged his readers (especially those in the second half of life) to undertake inner voyages of self-contemplation and discovery somewhat akin to religious quests, in which one must confront his dark side (shadow) and strive for moral wholeness. This later became known as "the individuation process". A neurosis can play an important part here. Jung believed that neuroses could make a valuable contribution to people's lives; they often appeared to be an attempt to compensate for a side of the personality that had been neglected and repressed. This was also true of dreams, in contrast to Freud's view of them as disguised wish fulfilments (14). Therefore, for a Jungian analyst therapy is always progressive rather than regressive, concentrating on conflicts in the present life of the subject that have been illuminated by the emergence of this neurosis (or dream). It has often been said of Jung that his work became overly mystical and abstract towards the end of his life, and whilst this is undoubtedly true, his writings still contain much that is valuable for our society today: the struggle to discover our inner selves is timeless.


1) See Jung, Carl Gustav (ed. Anelia Jaffe; trans. Richard and Clara Wilson (1963) Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London.

2) See Gay, Peter ([1988] 1995) Freud: A Life for Our Time, Papermac, London, p.276.

3) See Freud, Sigmund and Carl Gustav Jung (ed. William McGuire; trans. Ralph Manheim and R. F. C. Hull ([various dates] 1974) The Freud/Jung Letters, Hogarth Press and Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, p.91.

4) Consider, for example, Freud's poetic tribute to his "son" of September 1907: "Whether you have been or will be lucky or unlucky, I do not know; but now of all times I wish I were with you, taking pleasure in no longer being alone and, if you are in need of encouragement, telling you about my long years of honourable but painful solitude...." (see Freud, Sigmund and Carl Gustav Jung (1974) p.82); and Jung's somewhat timid request for Freud's picture a few days later: "I would dearly like to have a photograph of you, not as you used to look but as you did when I first got to know you.....Would you have the great kindness to grant this wish of mine sometime? I would be ever so grateful because again and again I feel want of your picture" (see Freud, Sigmund and Carl Gustav Jung (1974) p.86).

5) See Ferris, Paul (1997) Dr. Freud: A Life, Pimlico, London, p.379.

6) See Lewis, Peter "Just another cuckoo from the Swiss?" in The Daily Mail, November 26 1999.

7) See Ferris, Paul (1997) p.379.

8) See Jung, Carl Gustav (trans. R. F. C. Hull) ([various dates] 1961) Freud and Psychoanalysis, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, p.121.

9) See Jung, Carl Gustav (1961), p.117.

10) See Jung, Carl Gustav (1961), p.164.

11) A similar marginalisation of the Oedipus complex occurred in the later work of Otto Rank, who, as we have seen, asserted that all neuroses stemmed from the trauma of being born. Rank's ideas were further developed by Erich Fromm in the 1940's. Oddly, perhaps, it was Jung, when still a disciple of Freud's, who introduced the term "Electra complex" (after the Greek legend of Electra, who aided her brother's murder of her mother out of love for her father) to describe the female version of the Oedipus complex, a distinction that Freud himself regarded as unnecessary.

12) See Jung, Carl Gustav ([1952] 1956) Symbols of Transformation (revised edition), Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London.

13) Freud used such circular arguments to silence many of his critics - see below.

14) Jung's view of dreams as attempts to solve a present problem is similar to Adler's interpretation.


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ã Robin Tamblyn, 2000.

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