This paper tries to demonstrate that psychoanalysis can not only distill fixed and unchangeable meanings from a myth, but that it can also throw light on the dynamic forces that modify myths such that they can function in the society in which they are communicated. A case-study of the virgin goddess Artemis and the hunter-hero Orion shows how their love affair diachronically undergoes an increasing degree of sublimation, which can be explained by two parallel evolutions. Artemis, on the one hand, changes from an ancient mother goddess into a chaste huntress, indeed like many other mythological women; Orion, on the other hand, becomes a mortal human being and a less important player in Greek mythology, as hunting becomes less necessary or even superfluous as a source for food supply, but instead remains in use as a rite of passage for young adolescents instead. By adapting Artemis’ and Orion’s story to these historical and psychological changes, the male narrators of the story made sure that the myth would remain relevant and meaningful for their contemporary audience.
Ever since its very beginning, psychoanalysis has allowed itself to be inspired by knowledge supposedly present in (pre)literary genres like myths and fairy tales. However, with time, the tables were turned and its theories were systematically and rigorously applied to every story to hand, including the fairy tale. After Freud set an example in 1913 with two of his articles, Freudians and Jungians alike became convinced they could use psychoanalytic theory to penetrate the true heart of the tale. For a long time, the elaborate interpretations made by Bruno Bettelheim and Marie-Louize Von Franz were quite influential. But although their orthodox methods have indeed made a considerable contribution to our understanding of the fairy tale, they are nonetheless flawed on various levels. Therefore, it may be time to search for new ways to approach the fairy tale from a psychoanalytic perspective, for instance, in collaboration with socio-historicism or indeed by a purposeful exploration of Lacanian theory.
In Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (1957), psychoanalysis is deployed as a critical method to analyze the use of signs in contemporary mass culture in France. Barthes claims that society is permeated by petty bourgeois myths representing phenomena which are basically historical as natural and universal. He wrote his famous ‘mythologies’ to criticize this misrepresentation of the world. In order to develop his mythological criticism, Barthes relies on psychoanalysis, specifically, on Freud’s theory of dreams. At first sight, the socio-critical concept of ‘myth’ in the guise of ‘dream’ appears to be used to challenge the ruling ideology by contesting its presumed rational nature. Critics like Barthes, however, are depicted by the petty bourgeois media as magicians pontificating about the world with discourses (inspired by, for example, psychoanalysis) that can hardly be understood by ordinary people. Both myth and magic appear to be discursive weapons by which both camps attack each other. Yet, after close analysis, it can be demonstrated that, for Barthes, the mythologist has to be susceptible to the magical as well, if, as a critic, he wishes to obtain a total view of reality. The problem of the mythical, however, persists as a symptom of a more profound crisis of society equally stuck to the practice of the mythologist.
It is widely known that Freud gives Oedipus a central place in both his psychoanalytic theory and praxis. Freud introduces the Oedipus myth as the crucial key for understanding the tragedy of human life. One of the most problematic issues innate to the human condition is aggression. This paper argues: (1) that Freud’s insights into human aggression can at the very least be viewed as one-sided and problematic; and (2) that the heuristic potential of the Oedipus myth, correspondingly, is limited. It considers how the Hungarian psychiatrist and analyst, Lipót Szondi, tries to bridge this gap using the myth of Cain and Abel. The aim of this paper is to explore how Szondi’s interpretation of this myth offers a much more subtle approach to human aggression. Szondi’s alternative and distinctive look at aggressive phenomena offers an exciting and fruitful addition to Freud’s interpretation as exclusively referring to sadism and/or the death drive. This contribution wants to highlight Szondi’s amendment to Freud’s Oedipus and aims to show that psychoanalysis can benefit from taking into account the mythical figures of Cain and Abel as its ‘prodigal sons’.
Download full text
Human sexuality manifests itself in the unfolding of an opposition between universal procreation and individual enjoyment. In this opposition the author detects the knotting of two drives in an apparent juxtaposition: Eros and death drive. On the basis of the three tragedies of the Theban cycle of Sophocles, he investigates how the (un)knotting of this drive culminates in a (death)desire in its purest form. The themes that follow (subjective death wish, blinding ignorance, unconscious transgression of the Law, lethal enjoyment, impossible femininity, impotent masculinity, unbreakable blood ties,…) are linked to the management of this desire within the ethics of contemporary psychoanalysis, more specifically with regards to the end of the cure. From the impasse that comes with this end, the author traces the shift in answers to the questions regarding the end of analysis in the work of Jacques Lacan, from subjective death in the cure, through the traversing of the phantasm, to the last approach to the passe and the creation of the sinthome. In these times of the pluralisation of the Names-of-the-Father he demonstrates how the tragedy in Greek Antiquity still delivers us a solid mythical foothold, now that the object a is climbing into the zenith.
This essay examines why Socrates uses the Symposium of Plato to better understand transference in psychoanalytic treatment. The reason is found in Freud’s argument that transference is true love and that Eros is the subject of the Symposium. Can Socrates be seen as a precursor to Freud? Lacan’s answer is no. The knowledge of Socrates is not the knowledge of Freud. According to Socrates, love is oriented to what is good and the love for the individual is sublimated into a love that transcends the individual. This general idea on love is, in a certain sense according to Lacan, already contradicted by Plato in the final scene of the Symposium in which Alcibiades expresses his love for Socrates. In this exclusive love forces, such as envy and jealousy, come to the fore that do not sit well with Socrates’ metaphysics. The love of Alcibiades is not a failed love, but reveals what is missing in Socrates’ vision. If Socrates evaluates the love object from the point of view of a future satisfaction, Freud conceives the value of the object from the point of view of the drives.
Download full text