The Oedipus Myth: Beyond the Riddles of the Sphinx

  • Laura Mulvey
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)

Abstract

Riddles of the Sphinx was made in 1976–7. The film used the Sphinx as an emblem through which to hang a question mark over the Oedipus complex, to investigate the extent to which it represents a riddle for women committed to Freudian theory but still determined to think about psychoanlysis radically or, as I have said before, with poetic licence. Riddles of the Sphinx and Penthesilea, our previous film, used ancient Greece to invoke a mythic point of origin for Western civilisation, that had been reiterated by high culture throughout our history. Both the history of the Oedipus Complex and the history of antiquity suggest a movement from an earlier ‘maternal’ stage to a later ‘paternal’ or ‘patriarchal’ order. For me, as someone whose interest in psychoanalytic theory was a direct off-shoot of fascination with the origins of women’s oppression, this dual temporality was exciting. Perhaps there was an original moment in the chronology of our civilisation that was repeated in the chronology of each individual consciousness. Leaving aside the temptation to make speculative connections and an analogy between the earlier culture of mother goddesses and the pre-Oedipal, the idea of a founding moment of civilisation, repeated in consciousness, suggested that it might be possible to modify or change the terms on which civilisation is founded within the psyche and thus challenge the origins of patriarchal power through psychoanalytic politics and theory.

Keywords

Excavation Pyramid Ghost Burial Doyle 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 5.
    Carl Schorske in his book Fin de Siècle Vienna (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1980) discusses the intricate web of condensation and displacement at work in Freud’s dreams about his father, and the political significance they contain: particularly, Freud’s reaction to his father’s lack of revolutionary spirit in the face of anti-semitism. ‘This struck me as unheroic conduct on the part of the big, strong man who was holding the little boy by the hand. I contrasted this scene with one that fitted my feelings better: the scene in which Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca, made this boy swear before the household altar to take vengeance on the Romans’ (‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, p. 197). This point brings out the possibility of identification in rebellion between father and son in the face of social, economic and political oppression.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Vladimir Propp, ‘Oedipus in the Light of Folk-Tale’, Oedipus, a Folk Lore CaseBook (ed. Lowell Edmunds and Alan Dundas) (New York and London: Garland Publishing Inc., 1984).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Teresa de Lauretis: Alice Doesn’t (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984) p. 116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 8.
    Sophocles, ‘Oedipus the King’, The Three Theban Plays, trans. Robert Fagles (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1982) p. 182.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Tzvetan Todorov, ‘Detective Fiction’, Poetics of Prose (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Muriel Gardiner (ed.), The Wolf-Man and Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1972) p. 146.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Paul Arthur, Shadows on the Mirror: Film Noir and Cold War America 1945–57 (New York: Praeger, 1989).Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Jacques Lacan, ‘The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis’, Ecrits. A Selection (London: Tavistock Press, 1977) p. 50.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970) pp. 91–2.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Shoshana Felman, ‘Beyond Oedipus. The Specimen Story of Psychoanalysis’, MLN Comparative Literature, vol. 98, no. 5 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) pp. 1029–30.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot (New York: Vintage, 1985) pp. 99–100.Google Scholar
  12. 25.
    Terence Turner, ‘Oedipus: Time and Structure in Narrative Form’, Forms of Symbolic Action (American Ethnological Society, 1969) p. 32.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Francois Ronstang: Dire Mastery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982) p. 21.Google Scholar
  14. 29.
    Marie Balmary, Psycho-analysing Psycho-analysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Laura Mulvey 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Mulvey

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations