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Steiner, J. (1985). Turning a Blind Eye: The Cover up for Oedipus. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 12:161-172.

(1985). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12:161-172

Turning a Blind Eye: The Cover up for Oedipus

John Steiner


Philip Vellacott's study of Sophocles and Oedipus is used to suggest that both the play and the Oedipus complex need to be understood at two levels simultaneously. In the classical view Oedipus is a victim of fate and bravely pursues the truth. Freud likened this to the course of an analysis where the unconscious is gradually revealed to the patient. At the same time Sophocles seems to intend us to understand that the chief characters in the play must have been aware of the identity of Oedipus and realized that he had committed parricide and incest. There is some ambiguity about the degree of awareness of this knowledge and in the paper I put forward the view that each of the participants, for their own reasons turned a blind eye to it so that a cover-up was staged.

In the same way, a modern view of the Oedipus complex would not replace the classical view but complement it. Oedipal conflicts are universal and do not in themselves account for pathology. The view is put forward that a pathological resolution of the Oedipus complex arises when the psychic reality of these impulses is denied and a cover-up of a perverse kind results.

It is suggested that turning a blind eye is an important mechanism which leads to a misrepresentation and distortion of psychic reality.

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