Oedipus and All That: Freud behind the Freudian
“Any time there's a scandal, we always try and get involved” - Larry Flynt
It is a biological fact that the St Andrews student, like the cow, has two stomachs. One is for digesting food, and the other, the larger of the two, is for digesting vast quantities of gossip.
Doubtless, then, I am not the only punter for whom Personal Life is the go-to hangout in the Wikipedia information metropolis. Did you know that Michel Foucault was a mainstay in the underground BDSM scene? Or that Lord Byron kept a locket containing one of his mistress’ pubic hair?
But how to smuggle tabloid sensation into the erudite pages of The Saint? Under the guise of earnest intellectual discourse, an inquiry into Sigmund Freud shall be the trojan horse that wins your gossipmongering correspondent admission into the land of Arts & Culture.
And where better to go for gutter grub than Freud, the originator of ideas as sensationally scandalous as the Oedipus complex? This is, after all, a man who spent his 20th year searching in vain for the reproductive organ of male eels.
Beginning with the Oedipus complex, which is the grotesque intellectual discharge of a period of intensive introspection in Sigmund’s life, sparked by the death of his father. Perhaps I’m just not introspecting hard enough, but never before have I concluded from the internal facts of my psyche that my Ur-desire is to sleep with my mother and kill my father. Maybe I ought to re-download Headspace.
But the story of Freud’s Oedipus gets dark fast. In Freud’s intellectual genealogy, the Oedipus complex was once Seduction Theory, which he developed in response to sessions with patients suffering from hysteria, all of whom described suffering sexual abuse as children. The premise of Seduction Theory was that the mental illness experienced by his patients was their way of unconsciously expressing childhood trauma.
But in the mid-1890s, Freud suddenly abandons seduction theory, deciding instead that his patients are not describing actual experience but desire. Florence Rush thinks this is nonsense. She has argued, along with Jeffrey Masson, that Freud fled down the Oedipus complex route as a fire-exit from the brutal reality of sexual abuse because he could not accept the fact that it morally incriminated men (specifically fathers).
Why? Well, Freud wrote in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess that ‘my own father was one of these perverts, and is responsible for the hysteria of my brothers, and those of several younger sisters’. It has been variously suggested that Jacob Freud was abusive. Perhaps then the Oedipus complex began as a mechanism to repress Freud’s own experience of childhood abuse, and instead dispel it into the realm of fantasy.
Fliess and Freud were a mischievous double act, co-responsible for history’s worst nose job. In 1897 Freud decided that his patient Emma Eckstein masturbated too much, and prescribed a treatment (pioneered by Fliess) that my sane and rational readers will doubtless have already logically deduced. That is to say cauterizing the inside of Emma’s nose.
The result: Emma Eckstein was left permanently disfigured, and suffered recurrent haemorrhaging. Freud attributed this bleeding to Emma’s unconscious desire to re-kindle Freud’s affection for her, calling it ‘wish bleeding’. My discerning readers will doubtless have reached a similar diagnosis. What Sigmund Freud discovered here was that all people, whether they knew it or not, were actually in love with Sigmund Freud.
And speaking of noses, Freud’s penchant for cocaine was enough to blow your average Vic enjoyer out of the water. E.M. Thornton in Freud and Cocaine says that Freud was most likely actually on cocaine whilst writing his early work. Back to our average Vic enjoyer, though: do they realise their debt to Freud, who, as argued by Dominic Streatfeild in Cocaine: An Unauthorised Biography, is singly responsible for the emergence of cocaine as a recreational drug? No Freud, no fun.
Freud was also a progenitor of the chat-up line. Writing to his then-fiancée Martha, Sigmund declared “woe to you, little princess, when I come I will kiss you quite red and feed you quite plump. And if you are naughty you will see who is stronger, a gentle little girl who doesn’t eat or a big wild man with cocaine in his body”. Your correspondent offers no further comment here.
Martha, being married to Sigmund, had it tough. Undying rumours that Freud had an affair with his sister-in-law Minna (see Freud’s Mistress by Mack and Kaufman) were confirmed by Carl Jung, who knew Freud well. It has even been suggested (by Peter Swales) that Minna got pregnant by Freud, prompting an abortion. If true, this surely puts Freud on the Mount Rushmore of bad husbands.
And for a man who claimed to be sexually abstinent after the birth of his children, Freud’s decision to get a vasectomy aged 67 is a curious one. Though allegedly to delay the return of his oral cancer, this is a man who, in the words of Rihanna, had Love on the Brain, and I cannot help but speculate vis a vis his motives here.
But what I can say for certain is that Freud rightly takes his place in the canon as the great philosopher of scandal. Freud, with a private life to boot, saw in the world nothing but masturbation, incest, and scandalous desire, and I for one think there is something rather wonderful about that.
Illustration: Shalina Prakash