Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets
Briunt Norton

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oedips Rex and Sigmund Freud

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I recently reread ‘Oedipus the King.’ I needed the review to write something about the TV series Mad Men. The story of Oedipus is dramatic and full of insight into human nature. No big surprise that Sigmund Freud gave it top billing in his description of the workings of the human personality,
This odious semi-monster, the Sphinx has the city of Thebes blockaded and closed up. Oedipus shows up and with some clever thinking defeats the monster by solving a riddle. The people hail him and make him king. They marry him to the old, lost king’s wife. So Oedipus settles down to a happy marriage in a great new job.
All of this is wonderful until the people of the city begin dying from a plague. Oedipus is told that the plague is caused by there never having been any punishment for the murder of the old king. He’s also told that the murderer remains in the city and the deaths from the plague will not end until the man is found and punished.
So now Oedipus is pretty much drawn into the whole hero gig. He’s full of himself and convinced of his ability to make a difference. He starts smart talking the little folk and he acts like there is no way he can fail at this. And it is true he will not fail. Circumstances and his ego keep drawing him slowly, deeper and deeper into the search for the killer. He will find the killer.
There follows much investigation into the old king and all of the circumstances surrounding his death. The further he goes the more committed Oedipus becomes to the whole quest. Solving this question becomes Oedipus’ whole life. We detect no fear in him. He seems to have not an inkling that the final answer will discomfort him in any way.
So, for the first reader totally unfamiliar with the story, the dénouement is just as much a massive surprise to them as it was to Oedipus. Because, as everyone else knows, the new reader and Oedipus are in for a really, really big surprise. As he is looking for the murderer, some revelations also begin coming out about Oedipus’ genesis and youth. And this is a finely woven plot so nothing goes to waste. You will have to read the play to get all the twists (but the verdict of the ages is that it is more than worth the time and effort).
It all gets down to the inescapable fact that Oedipus was the killer. We also discover that, by a strange chain of accidents, that the old king, Laius is actually Oedipus’ father. And also Oedipus’ present wife, Jocasta is actually his mother. All of these revelations coming at once are more than a little upsetting to Oedipus. He goes a bit crazy and ends up gouging his eyes out.
So it sits until Freud comes along. That Viennese shrink likes the story because he thinks most all men are very attracted to their mother. It seldom takes the road of courtship and marriage. But it lurks in the subconscious and often has conscious results and implications. Freud also thought that one of the major drives of men is the struggle with the father and the need to best him in some way. We almost never kill the old guy. But we can kill his influence to some extent by growing beyond some of his ideas and some of the ideals, molds and patterns he pushed into our subconscious in our youth. “I don’t love my mother,” you say. So why are your wife’s nose and hair almost exactly like your mother’s? And you claim not to hate your father or want to kill him. So, why the extra-super charge that comes on the day that you finally beat him at basketball?
And then there’s denial. Oedipus could have used a lot more. He might not have put his eyes out. Denial is a psychological mechanism we are all born with that allows us to ignore the unacceptable or what we just can’t presently handle. Or there is just too much truth telling than we can handle so we can focus elsewhere. It is usually very simple. “My wife looks like my mother because most everyone at my school came from the same village in Russia.” Or maybe you just turn your attention from losing at chess to anger at not getting the table you wanted in the restaurant. You might even go on a minor vendetta against the hostess. Denial is not good or bad it just is. You are not necessarily bad if you become caught up in a denial system. It is something nature gave us to protect us. Sure, sometimes we become lost in denial and miss something we need to see but it is usually just a helpful defense that gets us through life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ancient Athens Part 1

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Science's Limits and Presuppositions

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010