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Oedipus against Freud

Oedipus against Freud: Myth and the End(s) of Humanism in 20th Century British Literature

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 208
  • Book Info
    Oedipus against Freud
    Book Description:

    InOedipus Against Freud, Bradley W. Buchanan re-examines the Oedipal narratives of authors such as D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce in order to explore their conflicted attitudes towards the humanism that underpins Freud's views.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8715-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations Used in Citations
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: Oedipus Before Freud: Humanism and Myth in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine
    (pp. 3-20)

    At the start of the twentieth century, professional performances of Sophocles’Oedipus Tyrannuswere forbidden in England; the most recent amateur performance of Sophocles’ work there had taken place in 1877 at Cambridge, where it was offered in the original Greek, not in English. In 1904 Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree had hoped to stage Oedipus’s tragedy in London, but was denied permission by the Lord Chamberlain’s office; the ban prompted playwright Henry Arthur Jones to publish a pamphlet protesting censorship and the decision to ‘Gag Sophocles!’ The authorities were afraid of what Sir John Hare, member of the Advisory Board...

  6. 1 Oedipus Against Freud: The Origins of D.H. Lawrence’s Anti-Humanism
    (pp. 21-48)

    Sigmund Freud’s account of the appeal exercised by Oedipus, first publicly articulated in his 1900 bookThe Interpretation of Dreams, has dominated both the popular idea of Oedipus in the twentieth century and the scholarly view of the role of Oedipal characters in modernist literature. This is understandable, since Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex undoubtedly exerted a widespread influence over the mythic imaginations of writers in Britain in the early twentieth century. The work of D.H. Lawrence may be more frequently linked to Freudian ideas than that of any other British modernist – a link that is tenuous at best,...

  7. 2 Anti-Humanists at Colonus: The Oedipus Myth in Wyndham Lewis and T.S. Eliot
    (pp. 49-70)

    In his account of the place of humanism in British modernist narrative, Paul Sheehan groups D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, and Wyndham Lewis together in the anti-humanistic ‘alternative tradition of morose modernism’ (Sheehan,Modernism, 104). Yet Lawrence differs profoundly from Eliot and Lewis; he regarded metaphysics and the intellect with deep suspicion, if not scorn, while both Lewis and Eliot had recourse to philosophy in their dealings with the Oedipus myth. Lawrence clearly does not fit Sheehan’s description of ‘metaphysical antihumanism’ in Lewis and Eliot (Sheehan,Modernism, 104). It is thus only to be expected that Lewis’s and Eliot’s reaction to...

  8. 3 Dystopian Oedipus: Freudianism and Totalitarianism in Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Malcolm Lowry
    (pp. 71-92)

    The impulse of such modernists as Lawrence, Lewis, and Eliot to react against Freudian theories of Oedipus’s importance by rejecting the idea of human identity altogether would have a lasting impact on the next generation to interpret the Oedipus myth. Writers of the 1930s and 1940s such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Malcolm Lowry made a strong connection between this trend and the rise of totalitarianism: if intellectuals as influential as Eliot and Lewis were giving up on humanity, then no wonder authoritarian regimes in the Soviet Union, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, and elsewhere sought to repress and coerce...

  9. 4 Freudful Mistakes in Sphinxish Pairc: Oedipal Humanism and Irish Nationalism in W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett
    (pp. 93-122)

    If British writers fearful of totalitarianism portrayed dystopic, authoritarian systems as exploiting the Oedipal complex for their own ends, then Irish writers – working in the shadow of a real colonial regime – found the idea of parricide equally fruitful. W.B. Yeats’s biographer Richard Ellmann has noted the relevance of the parricidal or Oedipal theme for writers in late nineteenth– and early twentieth–century Ireland, including not only Yeats but also J.M. Synge, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett (Ellmann,Yeats, 22–3). Although Freudianism is partly responsible for the seemingly endless recurrence of Oedipal motifs in Irish modernist writing, Oedipus also has...

  10. 5 Oedipus Que(e)ried: Humanism, Sexuality, and Gender in E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf
    (pp. 123-148)

    Perhaps surprisingly, the modernist writers who engage with the Oedipus myth in the most conventionally Freudian fashion are those who least fit Freud’s behavioural models: a homosexual man, E.M. Forster, and a bisexual (predominantly lesbian) woman, Virginia Woolf. Freudian humanism depends heavily upon the theory of the Oedipus complex, concerning the behaviour and unconscious urges of heterosexual men and boys, yet Forster’s and Woolf’s uses of Oedipus are often compatible with Freud’s own treatment of the story. Such a situation seems paradoxical, especially since the heterosexual male writers we have encountered have rejected, satirized, and/or ignored the Freudian Oedipus. Why...

  11. Conclusion: Oedipus Reconsidered: Humanism as a Post-Structuralist Narrative in Christine Brooke-Rose and Zadie Smith
    (pp. 149-170)

    In 1978 Jean Michel Benoist asserted, ‘Oedipus is the first to make the humanist pronouncement; he is also the first to witness its ruins’ (Benoist,Structural Revolution, 123–4). This verdict is both a succinct, anti-Freudian reading of the myth itself, and a useful – albeit unwitting – summary of the conclusions of twentieth-century British writers about Oedipus’s mythic significance. Such authors as D.H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Virginia Woolf all used Oedipus to sidestep or reject Freud’s confidence in his ability to explain the hidden aspects of human nature. These authors suggest instead...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-180)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-199)