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Swan, J. (1974). Mater and Nannie: Freud's Two Mothers and the Discovery of the Oedipus Complex. Am. Imago, 31(1):1-64.

(1974). American Imago, 31(1):1-64

Mater and Nannie: Freud's Two Mothers and the Discovery of the Oedipus Complex

Jim Swan

With ironic humor, Freud once remarked to Ernest Jones, “It seems to have been my fate to discover only the obvious: that children have sexual feelings, which every nursemaid knows; and that night dreams are just as much wishfulfillment as day dreams.” He was referring to The Interpretation of Dreams and the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, his favorites among his own writings. The detail about nursemaids—rather than mothers—typifies his habitual tendency, in describing the nuclear family, to isolate the mother at a pure distance from the child's experience of sexuality (though in his last writings, more and more explicitly, Freud names her as the child's first “seducer”). In a way not yet fully appreciated, mother and nursemaid, mater and Nannie, share a crucial set of roles in Freud's discovery of the Oedipus complex.

1. Text and Hermeneutic

Freud's remark names his two most fundamental discoveries, a theory of sexual development and a theory of interpretation, a hermeneutic. His discovery of the Oedipus complex was at the same time the discovery of a hermeneutic of dreams or, more exactly, the manifest texts of dreams. A hermeneutic, like the texts it is devised to interpret, is itself an historically de-derminate text.

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