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Bergmann, M.S. (2010). The Oedipus Complex and Psychoanalytic Technique. Psychoanal. Inq., 30(6):535-540.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(6):535-540

The Oedipus Complex and Psychoanalytic Technique

Martin S. Bergmann


Thanks to the almost miraculous survival of the Freud–Fliess correspondence, we know how the idea of the Oedipus complex occurred to Freud. The crucial letter was written by Freud to Fliess on October 15, 1887. Freud was engaged in his self-analysis when it “suddenly ceased for three days.” He became disconsolate. Freud then proceeds to ask his mother about a childhood memory dealing with the disappearance of a beloved nurse when he was between two and two-and-a-half years old. Without even beginning a new paragraph, Freud interrupts the historical narrative to write the lines that would become famous.

A single idea of general value dawned on me. I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood. If this is so, we can understand the gripping power of Oedipus Rex. … The Greek legend seizes upon a compulsion which everyone recognizes because he senses its existence within himself. Everyone in the audience was once a budding Oedipus in fantasy and each recoils in horror from the dream fulfillment here transplanted into reality, with the full quantity of repression which separates his infantile state from his present one. [Masson 1985, p. 272]

At this early stage in his work, Freud cannot be expected to deal with the large number of questions to which this statement would give rise. Freud believed he understood “the gripping power of Oedipus Rex” because everyone recognized that he or she was once a budding Oedipus, but in over 2,300 years since the play was written, no one had recognized this connection before Freud.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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