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Levy, I. (1995). The Fate of the Oedipus Complex: Dissolution or Waning. Int. Forum Psychoanal., 4(1):7-14.

(1995). International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 4(1):7-14

The Fate of the Oedipus Complex: Dissolution or Waning

Iris Levy, C.S.W.

What is the fate of the Oedipus complex? Is it ideally resolved once and for all, or is it continually reworked and transformed throughout subsequent stages of development?

Most psychoanalysts would agree that the Oedipus complex is universal, but that also, it cannot retain its original form. How and why this change occurs, as well as what achievements are gained as a result of Oedipal resolution will be the subject of this paper. As a basis for discussion, I will explore two seminal essays which deal with this complicated and elusive topic of Oedipal mastery: Freud's classic essay of 1924, “The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex,” and Hans Loewald's paper, “The Waning of the Oedipus Complex,” written fifty-five years later in the light of subsequent psychoanalytic theory.

The topic of the fate of the Oedipus complex speaks to the essential issue of the continuity vs. the discontinuity of human development. Although Freud did indeed acknowledge the importance of our archaic past, the idea that the Oedipus complex must ideally undergo a definitive destruction in order to avoid neurosis in later life, did become part of the scaffolding of his metapsychology. Loewald, on the other hand, emphasized the idea that the Oedipus complex is never definitively demolished once and for all, but that we can only speak of its waning. Loewald adds a uniquely developmental perspective to classical theory by attempting to integrate Freudian premises with current psychoanalytic thinking about pre-Oedipal issues and thus brings a richer complexity to our understanding of the Oedipus complex, and how it passes.

I will begin my paper with a brief summary of Freud's essay. Secondly, I will turn to an extended analysis of Loewald's paper, with special emphasis on the ways in which his paper extends and revises Freud's. This section will include discussion on parricide, incest, guilt and love. Finally, I will conclude with some brief and speculative remarks of my own.

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