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Nelson, B. (1958). Adventures in Ideas: Social Science, Utopian Myths, and the Oedipus Complex. Psychoanal. Rev., 45A(1/2):120-126.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45A(1/2):120-126

Adventures in Ideas: Social Science, Utopian Myths, and the Oedipus Complex

Benjamin Nelson

This Department rededicates itself at this time to the systematic exploration of the puzzlements of science and the predicaments of men and culture.

The first of our discussions, which appeared in the Spring 1957 issue of Psychoanalysis, sought to unravel the confusions clustering around the age-old problem of determinism, moral agency, and responsibility. The author, on the margins of whose pages we chose to offer notes, makes a fresh appearance in the present issue with a challenging contribution on “The Ego and Mystic Selflessness,” on which readers are invited to comment. A remark on this paper by the undersigned will appear in an early issue. It is a pleasure, incidentally, to welcome Professor Fingarette as a member of our Board of Consultants.

On this occasion we present a searching contribution to the clarification of another vexing issue, the bearing of contemporary anthropology, especially the researches of Malinowski, on Freudian theory. The author is Professor Meyer Fortes, a student of Malinowski and an outstanding British anthropologist in his own right, who now directs teaching and research in anthropology at King's College at Cambridge University.

Few matters in contemporary social science have been so distressingly embattled as has this one. To chart the episodes and untangle the motives in the record of this polemic would require a huge book. Already there has proliferated a vast secondary literature on the underlying issue of this problem, the so-called debate between the “culturalists” and the “instinctivists.” Preliminary surveys of the responses of American anthropologists and sociologists to Freud undertaken by numerous writers, including E. A. Burgess, A. L. Kroeber, and G. Hinkle, plainly indicate that the question to be stressed in these introductory remarks, the hypothesis of the Oedipus Complex, has been at the heart of the matter.1 Numerous culturalist psychoanalysts and sociologists in the 1930's and 40's who were unsatisfied with the libido theory and the biogenetic emphasis of Freud's thought seized upon Malinowski's work, notably his Sex and Repression in Savage Society (1927), as the decisive disproof of Freud's views.


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