18. Reading a Reference?*

Freud was preoccupied by the role he had had to attribute—or so he thought—to the death principle, a role for which Empedocles’ cosmogony provided a distant model. I later reconstituted that cosmology in very different terms, which were not understood in the same way in Freud’s day. [1] Freud was undoubtedly led astray by a dualism that does not reproduce the original form of the system. It was easy to establish an analogy between the object he sought and the information he found; he was probably inspired by a representation that was not as far removed from his own as is commonly believed. I dealt systematically with the problems of Freud’s reading of Oedipus Tyrannus in “Le fils de l’homme,” [2] following a day of discussions organized by Barbara Cassin at the Sorbonne, with psychoanalysts among the participants. Freud seeks to characterize the effect that the memory of the myth, transmitted by the inspired intuition of the poet, conveys deep within the spectator’s soul, as it meets the latent zones of dreams. The spectator’s pleasure is the sign that he is resuscitating in his unconscious the virtually timeless recollection of a primal murder and a primal incestuous desire, close to one of the “age-old dreams” of humanity in its youth.
There remains the problem of understanding how such an elaborate and complex literary work could, on its own, resist being transferred into the order of myth. Depending on whether one follows Freudian logic or the logic that ensues from close textual analysis, the mythical story and its interpretation by Sophocles—and, with these, the signification of the murder and the incest—are situated at two different levels of reflection. During numerous sessions with groups of psychoanalysts since 1984, I have added to this example that of Antigone, which was central for Lacan. The use of a cultural tradition illustrates less a case of conflict than a case of competing hermeneutics, if the term can be applied to psychoanalysis (it is used in that context for the “reading” of non-manifest fragments of dreams). We can try to engage in straightforward debates about competencies in order to discover under what conditions the one may become fruitful for the other.

Work Cited

Bollack, J. 1995. “Le fils de l’homme.” In La naissance d’Oedipe, 282–321. Paris.


[ back ] * Originally published as “Lire une référence,” in: Jean Bollack, La Grèce de personne: les mots sous le mythe (Paris, 1997), pp. 106–106.
[ back ] 1. The most recent manuals keep on lazily reproducing the traditional understanding—which I consider outdated—without even discussing it.
[ back ] 2. This study, devoted to Freud’s analyses of the myth, was reprinted in Bollack 1995.