Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection

What does Kristeva say about the Oedipus Complex?

Does she agree or disagree with Freud?

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Kristeva's philosophical heritage is composed primarily of post-modernism and Freudian psychoanalysis. Her work is largely a continuation of the project begun by Jacques Lacan and others to apply the linguistic insights of post-modernism to the psychoanalytic method of Freud. It is important, then, to realize that Kristeva is not a "pure" Freudian; indeed, she explicitly disagrees with him several times in the book. Nonetheless, any reading of the text will immediately reveal that she is, nonetheless, much indebted to his work. One of the most important Freudian insights Kristeva uses is the Oedipus complex. According to Freud, when a child (particularly a boy—but there is thought to be an equivalent experience for a girl) grows up, he begins to sexually desire his mother. This is because, so far, his mother has been the source of everything good in his life, starting with life inside of the womb. As his sexual faculties begin to develop, she, then, is their natural first object. However, the child is prevented from ever possessing this object because of the father; he stands in the way from the child ever being with his mother sexually. The child becomes jealous of the father—he even hates him, perhaps—but eventually resigns himself to the fact that he will never have his mother. At this point, the child gives his first obedience to what is known as the reality principle: one cannot have everything one wants. This act is the first act of becoming part of the society and part of the economy; it is, therefore, also the first step towards assimilation.

For Kristeva, this Oedipal triangle—child, mother, and father as desirer, desired, and obstacle or law, respectively—is paradigmatic of all desire. There is always the subject (the child), the object (the father), and the law. This paradigm can break down if the object is seen as too difficult to obtain because of the law or if the object is recognized to be insufficient. The result of this a condition called narcissism, in which the subject is sufficient for himself. The abject is directly related to the Oedipal complex. Since the Oedipal stage occurs usually very early in childhood, before any mastery of language, the repression of one's mother-lust happens before it can be categorized linguistically. However, one still lives with that desire, but it becomes incomprehensible.