Document found here:

  • Freud says either the Oedipus Complex dissolves through a process of sustained disappointment and realisation that the opposite sex parent can never love the child sexually, and so the child gives up;
  • Or it is a process that occurs in the same vein as milk teeth coming to their natural end and being replaced by adult ones and as such he suggests the Oedipus complex is determined by innate forces/hereditary as well as local stages particular to each individual
  • Ontogenetic – an organism’s entire existence from fertilisation to maturity
  • Phylogenetic – evolutionary history
  • Dissolution of EC can be looked at through both the above
  • Awareness of sexual development is recognised but in Freud’s view only in male children to begin with (I can’t see how any boy child will fail to recognise that he has this appendage hanging between his legs as it is so obvious. As well, the mother/caregiver will have reacted to the boys penis peeing at her as she bathes/changes him or it moving up and down. Ultimately, it might seem that a boy is more aware than a girl, but I would suggest this interpretation is typical of contemporary attitudes to women and is part of a cultural heritage that makes it seem so. Little girls might have had less unspoken communication about their own sexuality than boys at that time, or at any rate the unspoken communication might have been that sexuality was not part of their being in the same way that it was with boys. And perhaps that continues today although I have seen little girls who were extremely aware of their genital region – (depends on family, perhaps)
  • Male children betray their interest by manipulating their genitals frequently (what else would you do with it though?)
  • Next Freud says that the threat to take the penis away from the child as punishment for playing with it comes mainly from women. This may have been so in many homes, but perhaps only because it was the women who were near the children most of the time as the men would have been out working (as is often true now). In my personal experience with friends, it is usually the father that can be found shaming their two year old son for putting their hands down their pants. Wherever the threat comes from it, it is unlikely to be a universal response to young children’s’ interest in their genitals, and possibly a result of our own culture’s discomfort with sex in our case. I don’t romanticise non-western cultures as there are clearly others where shaming is normalised. I think Malinowski was one of the earliest critics of Freudian theory when it was used to try and analyse non-western cultures though, especially where there was little evidence of the same level of repression regarding sex in cultures. I recall the Zulu woman who took care of my brother and me whilst my mother worked chasing my brother round in a game pretending to grab his penis – although she never did, and he seemed to find it immensely funny at the time. However, even just writing about it here causes me to wonder if there was something untoward going on, but I am certain too of nothing more than Western neurosis or sensitivity in my current response rather than anything else.
  • Freud claims that the hand rather then the penis is ‘demonised’ (which seems to separate the sexual organ from the person – no wonder men can sometimes seem to take so little responsibility for their actions)
  • Wetting the bed is equated with ‘badness’ linked to infant genital ‘soothing’. “Nocturnal incontinence was the result of proof of his being unduly concerned with his penis” (In fact, there is an argument to suggest incontinence in young children is more to do with the relationship some children have with control or rather a lack of control and agency in their lives. I wonder if potty training in our culture has got later as diposable nappies mean parents are under less pressure to ‘train’ – at any rate advice changes with fashion, women used to be advised to train early to stop all that washing, then advised to let it wait lest they damage their children with harsh training methods, and elimination communication experts claim children can be trained in infancy if their theories are followed correctly. Whatever, relating toilet to sex in the way Freud suggests was common of his age and seems fraught with potentially unhelpful ‘drawbacks’.
  • When a boy sees a girl’s genital region, the boy sees that castration is a reality/possibility according to Freud. My youngest son is immensely interested in the absence of a penis in women and has been for a while (long before I read this paper!) asking questions of my female friend and me. To begin with he was convinced his girl friend had a penis too, no matter how much I tried to persuade him otherwise. Now he wonders where mine and my adult friend’s is. I asked him recently if he knew the answer and he said mine must have been cut off when I was a baby.
  • I’m glad to see Freud’s progressive attitude, calling a person who threatens a child with castration short sighted. To fail to recognise and accept a child has normal feelings seems to be a terrified and irrational response to being human. That isn’t to say a child doesn’t need emotional holding and guidance as they comes to terms with their sexuality and related Oedipal urges, just that they shouldn’t be made to feel wrong or bad, which Freud recognises – although he does seem to suggest that masturbation will stop at some point, which is a surprise to me. (Perhaps he’s referring only to the latent stage or emery trying to reassure nervous readers)
  • The ultimate end in Freud’s reading is that the threat of castration for being sexually in love with his mother, or lack of one in a girl who has so clearly lost hers somewhere along the line, leads somehow to the end of the Oedipul stage. The child’s ego turns away from the Oedipul complex. It seems a neat and tidy solution and I’m sure there have been plenty more elaborate theories posited since.
  • Next Freud says the authority of the father is internalised in the male ego, forming the nucleus of the super ego, and serves to guard against incest. Since in some cultures it is the uncle rather than the father who represent the authority (it will take me a while to find the reference for this since I read it about 10 years ago – but this isn’t a formal essay so…forgive my non-backed up statement) I wonder how that fits in with Freud’s theory. In any event I read somewhere that the incest taboo is universal and can be found cross culturally, so if that is true, it is unlikely the western model of Oedipus and dissolution is the only factor in avoiding genetic cul de sacs, which is what incest leads to.
  • In Western children, according to Freud, the dissolution process, simultaneously preserves the genitals and renders them useless (for a time at any rate) as the latency stage emerges. Malinowski on the other hand reported young children simulating intercourse throughout childhood although he too is questioned nowadays, as are his reports and theories.
  • Freud suggests that a failure to experience a latent stage leads to pathological behaviour.
  • His model of Id, Ego and Super ego are, I believe, now considered simplistic – and even Jung expanded on it. Whatever, the super ego, the authority figure within is seen as the guard who enforces the suppressed love for the mother/father. I am interested in this because unless I’ve misread this, it seems that Freud concedes that nothing has dissolved – it is merely repressed. Freud says he sees “no reason for denying the name of a ‘repression’” (I change my mind about this after rereading and say so in a later blog – it seems I did misread first time round, since Freud is actually suggesting that a repressed complex leads to complications later as it hides away in the id) 
  • Freud states that girls differ only in that they lament the loss of a penis they imagine they once had and can never get back whereas boys fear the castration – each of these are what end the Oedipul stage.
  • Freud wisely admits that insight into the female process is vague, unsatisfactory and incomplete. Presumably because at the time few if any women were actually part of the scientific/analytical community (until his daughter joined in), and mostly as stated in the OCA course folder most of this refers to men and their view of the world at the time

To conclude the paper is important albeit challenging, and that challenge seem to explain some of the attitude one finds towards Freud’s work. Although it might lack subtlety and nuance, and in places be entirely inaccurate as we understand things now, fundamental and underlying truths exist – specifically in this paper that children are sexual human animals, who perhaps due to cultural practises or following a biological pattern, lose the conscious awareness of their sexuality to varying extents in early childhood, following infancy, before it reawakens later. As the parent is the earliest relationship in the child’s life it would seem to make sense that the parent is the first object of desire.

Why wouldn’t that be so? Oxytocin is released in abundance during pregnancy, through childbirth and when breastfeeding or holding an infant. It is released in the parent and baby. It is the hormone behind love and attachment (and anxiety too when there is too much of it) and it does not discriminate between different forms of love. It feels rewarding and physically pleasant to hold a child (and breastfeed) because of oxytocin. It would seem our culture has immense difficulty at times accepting and reconciling this. Although I should think all cultures need to find ways to determine different forms of attachment and keep them boundaried. This paper seems to me to be describing a paradigm left over from recent Victorian attitudes, and consequently perhaps quite patriarchal understanding of that reality.

Incidentally, as I reported to my fellow UVC people last night, following my chat with my 4 year old about what he imagined may have happened to my penis, I dreamt I had a very large and quite elaborate one of my own, well I say one, it seemed to be multi-headed. I wonder if it would have been of interest to Mr. Freud.


2 thoughts on “Project 4: Part 1 Notes on Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex

  1. I’m sure Mr Freud would have been very interested in your dream and Jung too no doubt.Guess it’s a question of what that dream means to you in connection with your current life situation.
    Interesting notes.


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