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Rudnytsky, P.L. (1988). Preface. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):iii-vi.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):iii-vi


Peter L. Rudnytsky, Ph.D.

The word “mythic” is often used pejoratively in common parlance as a synonym for “untrue.” But, considered more profoundly, myths are the shaping fictions of an individual, a culture, or even the human race as a whole. As such, far from being “falsehoods,” myths may be the repositories of the most enduring truths.

Psychoanalysis and structuralism, arguably the two most powerful intellectual movements of the twentieth century, have at once shed critical light on the understanding of myths and themselves sought to appropriate the explanatory power of myths for their own purposes. Freud opened new vistas for the study of art and literature through his concept of the Oedipus complex even as he capitalized on the prestige of Sophocles's Oedipus the King as a cultural touchstone. Lévi-Strauss's theory of myths as a system of mediations designed to overcome contradictions coexists with his recognition that structuralism is itself a “myth of mythology.” But this mythic dimension, far from invalidating the scientific standing of structuralism or psychoanalysis—as positivistic critics contend—is a sign of hermeneutic self-awareness in disciplines that take human beings themselves as their objects of scrutiny.

As Lévi-Strauss's elaboration of Freud's hypothesis of the universality of the incest taboo attests, psychoanalysis and structuralism are fundamentally compatible in their outlooks. To be sure, there are divergences on some points. Psychoanalysis is a dynamic individual psychology; structuralism is grounded in the anthropological study of cultures. And whereas psychoanalysis takes for granted the primacy of instinctual drives in behavior, structuralism places more emphasis on cognitive processes. But these are relatively minor differences of emphasis.

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