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Steiner, J. (1990). The Retreat from Truth to Omnipotence in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 17:227-237.

(1990). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 17:227-237

The Retreat from Truth to Omnipotence in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus

John Steiner


My interest in various ways truth can be evaded, distorted and misrepresented has led me to compare the mechanisms which are brought into play when reality is unbearable. These mechanisms appear to have a remarkable relevance to the way Oedipus grappled with reality and self-knowledge in the two plays about him by Sophocles. Oedipus the King can be used to illustrate the mechanism of turning a blind eye which was described in a previous paper, while Oedipus at Colonus can be seen to involve a retreat from truth to omnipotence. I argue that the transition took place when Oedipus realized that he was betrayed by his mother and that the crime led to her death by suicide. This made his guilt unbearable and led to its replacement with hatred and self-destruction. The two methods of evading reality reflect the operation of two different types of pathological organization of the personality.

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