Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Re-Reading Oedipus

Paper for the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy
Melbourne, 30 November 2009


Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex has, through Freud, exerted a huge influence on contemporary theory – and yet the play’s status and meaning, for the purposes of understanding the psyche and human relations, remain controversial. This paper considers Freud’s interpretation, and Foucault’s alternative reading (in ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’) of this play. Does Freud’s interpretation express an anxiety to contain the desire of the child in the structure of the bourgeois family? And why did Freud overlook the attempted infanticide and the infant’s abandonment? Why did he not consider the violence performed by Laius and Jocasta, the sovereign-parents? With some theoretical assistance from Agamben, a focus on the actions of the parents brings to light a dimension of Oedipus that allows us to reflect upon sovereignty and the law. Specifically, the paper considers the ineluctable effect of transgression, and the circularity, that found the law – as suggested by the tragedy. But, should the art of tragedy – let alone one, admittedly great, example thereof – hold a privileged place in forming our understandings of the psychology of civil life? Why Oedipus, and not some other love-story?

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