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Oedipus complex

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French: complexe d'Oedipe

Sigmund Freud

The "Oedipus complex" is a concept used by Sigmund Freud to refer to the unconscious sexual desire of the child - especially a male child - for the parent of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by hostility and rivalry with the parent of the same sex.

The complex is named after Oedipus, a prominent figure in Greek mythology who unwittingly killed his father and married his mother.

Phallic Phase

The Oedipus complex emerges in the third year of life and then declines in the fifth year, and coincides with the phallic stage of psychosexual development.


Jacques Lacan

Symbolic Structure

The Oedipus complex is, for Lacan, the paradigmatic triangular structure, which contrasts with all dual relations (though see the final paragraph below). The key function in the Oedipus complex is thus that of the father, the third term which transforms the dual relation between mother and child into a triadic structure. The Oedipus complex is thus nothing less than the passage from the imaginary order to the symbolic order, "the conquest of the symbolic relation as such."[1] The fact that the passage to the symbolic passes via a complex sexual dialectic means that the subject cannot have access to the symbolic order without confronting the problem of sexual difference.

Times

In The Seminar, Book V, Lacan analyzes this passage from the imaginary to the symbolic by identifying three "times" of the Oedipus complex, the sequence being one of logical rather than chronological priority.[2]

First

In the first time of the Oedipus complex, the child slowly comes to realize that it is not identical to, or the sole object of, the mother's desire, as her desire is directed elsewhere. He or she will therefore attempt to satisfy her desire by becoming the object of her desire. The dyadic relationship between the mother and child is thus turned into a triangular relationship between the child, the mother and the object of her desire. Lacan calls this third term the imaginary phallus. The imaginary phallus is what the child assumes someone must have in order for them to be the object of the mother's desire and, as her desire is usually directed towards the father, it is assumed that he possesses the phallus. Through trying to satisfy the mother's desire, the child identifies with the object that it presumes she has lost and attempts to become that object for her.

Second

The second time of the Oedipus complex is characterized by the interven­tion of the imaginary father. The father imposes the law on the mother's desire by denying her access to the phallic object and forbidding the subject access to the mother. Lacan often refers to this intervention as the "castration" of the mother, even though he states that, properly speaking, the operation is not one of castration but of privation.

Third

The third 'time' of the Oedipus complex is marked by the intervention of the real father. By showing that he has the phallus, and neither exchanges it nor gives it,[3], the real father castrates the child, in the sense of making it impossible for the child to persist in trying to be the phallus for the mother; it is no use competing with the real father, because he always wins.[4] The subject is freed from the impossible and anxiety-­provoking task of having to be the phallus by realizing that the father has it. This allows the subject to identify with the father. Lacan follows Freud in arguing that the superego is formed out of this Oedipal identification with the father.[5]

Clinical Structures

In accordance with Freud's view of the Oedipus complex as the root of all psychopathology, Lacan relates all the clinical structures to difficulties in this complex. Since it is impossible to resolve the complex completely, a completely non-pathological position does not exist. The closest thing is a neurotic structure; the neurotic has come through all three times of the Oedipus complex, and there is no such thing as a [[neurosis without Oedipus. On the other hand, psychosis, perversion and phobia result when "something is essentially incomplete in the Oedipus complex."[6] In psychosis, there is a fundamental blockage even before the first time of the Oedipus complex. In perversion, the complex is carried through to the third time, but instead of identifying with the father, the subject identifies with the mother and/or the imaginary phallus, thus harking back to the imaginary preoedipal triangle. A phobia arises when the subject cannot make the transition from the second time of the Oedipus complex to the third time because the real father does not intervene; the phobia then functions as a substitute for the intervention of the real father, thus permitting the subject to make the passage to the third time of the Oedipus complex (though often in an atypical way).


See Also


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