Study Guide

Sigmund Freud Influences

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Sophocles' Oedipus the King

I love this book. I mean I really love it. That's why I named my darling theory around it—the Oedipus complex. Allow me to quote from my masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams, in which I zero in how Sophocles impacted my work:

The dream of having sexual intercourse with one's mother was as common then as it is today with many people, who tell it with indignation and astonishment. As may well be imagined, it is the key to the tragedy and the complement to the dream of the death of the father. The Oedipus fable is the reaction of phantasy to these two typical dreams, and just as such a dream, when occurring to an adult, is experienced with feelings of aversion, so the content of the fable must include terror and self- chastisement.

Now, you may want to dismiss me as a pervert, but hear me out.

Thanks to the play, I've cooked up this idea that the desire to sleep with mom (in spite of the mom jeans and the unsexy mini-van) is, in fact, very common. I take the myth of Oedipus and put my own spin on it. Of course the play is only a metaphor. I'm not saying that boys consciously want to slaughter their fathers. I'm saying that starting at ages 3 – 6, all face some deep sexual impulses toward our dear old mums. That's what I call psychosexual development. The "terror and self-chastisement" only enters the picture because who wants to admit to having these feelings? Sheesh.

Goethe's Faust

I absolutely cannot get enough of Faust. In fact, some scholars claim that the lion's share of my literary references are to Goethe, and that's probably pretty close to the truth. If I had a Nook, it would be jam-packed with Goethe's works.

Why do I have such a thing for the G-man? Well, for one, he's a fellow German speaker—and reading work in translation just isn't the same. Plus Goethe's a modern, so it's not like reading plays written 300 years ago (though I love you, Shakespeare). If you haven't read this classic for a while, Faust is about a mastermind scientist who strikes a deal with the devil (ever heard of a Faustian bargain?)

One of my favorite sayings comes from this work: "The best of what you know/You could not tell your students." But I also borrowed a few essential terms from him, like the "eternal feminine," and riffed on his ideas about mothers and women.

Shakespeare's Hamlet

I could talk about Hamlet all day long because he is the perfect Oedipal character. Why do you think he hates his uncle/new stepfather, Claudius, so darn much? You think he wants to kill him just because his father's ghost told him to? Hardly. There's definitely some mommy-lovin' goin' on.

Which raises a whole new question: why does Hamlet keep postponing murdering his uncle? I'll tell you why: He identifies with Claudius, who is living Hamlet's fantasy of sleeping with Gertrude—his mother. He also can't off Claudius for sleeping with Gertrude, because frankly, he can't blame the guy. After all, he wants to do just that. Hamlet only gets the nerve to kill Claudius after his mother, Gertrude, is dead, because at that point he enacts his desires (unless he's a real sicko). It's enough to make you feel like your family is normal.

Oh—and I just can't resist doing a little of my magic on Shakespeare himself, whose own son died very young and bore the name Hamnet. Coincidence? I think not.

Shakespeare's Macbeth

Now here's one jacked couple. All of that work to get their hands on the throne, and Lady Macbeth just loses it in the end? Keep it together, woman! She spends so much time getting that wimpy husband into gear only to lose it with all of that crazy hand washing. What happened? Could she not keep up the game? Was she flawed and fragile like the rest of us mere mortals?

I'm afraid that in my essay on the play ("Some Character-Types Met with In Psycho-analytic Work"), I conclude that "It seems to me impossible to come to any decision." This may seem like a copout, so I throw in the possibility that Macbeth and his wife are actually two minds in one and that her behavior can't be seen as separate from his. And hey, that' clears up why she turns into a little Macbeth by the end of the play. Discuss.

The Works of Heinrich Heine

H.H. was a real inspiration for Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. He's definitely a fave of mine—and not just because he's German. One reason that I nurse such a soft spot for the guy is that he's a commendable Jewish writer and isn't afraid to discuss religion in a time and place where being Jewish is more than a little rough (i.e. 19th-century Austria).

Some people may find my reading of Heine a little unsavory because I basically say he's cool for not acting Jewish, but for getting over the whole Jewish thing and acting like a European. To some (wrong) people, that means I'm boiling down Heine's work and conducting anti-Semitic interpretations of Jewishness. Too bad you can't take anything back.

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