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Rubey, D. (1988). The Troubled House of Oedipus and Chrétien's Néo-Tristan: Re-Writing the Mythologies of Desire. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):67-94.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):67-94

The Troubled House of Oedipus and Chrétien's Néo-Tristan: Re-Writing the Mythologies of Desire

Daniel Rubey, Ph.D.

Oedipus, Tristan, and Arthur

Myths have power for us because they seem to be fragments of another age and another reality, of inaccessible prehistoric origins, the time of primal fathers and totems. Myths seem to offer encoded truths that can be retrieved by penetrating the obscure or scandalous surface of the text. They promise illuminations authorized by antiquity and tradition. But at the same time, any actual myth is only a version, an interpretation of a pre-existing myth, a recreation of an inaccessible original. Originals seem timeless, beyond history; but interpretations have a historical dimension that is relatively accessible, that is subjective and ideological.

The Oedipus myth was used in this way by Freud in developing his theory of the Oedipus complex and in arguing for its universality (Freud, 1900, pp. 261-264; 1926, pp. 211-214).1 Freud drew on the timeless, mythic quality of the Oedipus story to assert its universality, but he actually used a particular version of the myth, Sophocles's Oedipus Rex. In that dramatic version, as Cynthia Chase (1979) has argued, Oedipus's discovery of the truth about his own origins parallels the process of self-discovery around which Freud constructed the new science of psychoanalysis. Freud's version of the Oedipus myth, the Oedipus complex, has been re-written by his followers and revisers for their own purposes, just as their re-writings will be revised in the continuing process of intertextuality.


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