Sunday 11 January 2009

Shibboleth: 100 Years of the ‘Oedipus Complex’. Inner Circle Seminar 146 (22 November 2009)

Sándor Ferenczi
 Ernest Jones


Oedipus and Hamlet
100 Years of the ‘Oedipus Complex’

Anthony Stadlen
conducts Inner Circle Seminar No. 146
Sunday 22 November 2009
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In an 1897 letter to Wilhelm Fließ, Sigmund Freud proposed his interpretation of Sophocles’s Oedipus the King and extended it to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He developed these ideas in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). In November 1910, he first published the term ‘Oedipus complex’. And, in a 1920 footnote to Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), he wrote: 
‘Every new human being is set the task of mastering the Oedipus complex; anyone who fails to do so falls prey to neurosis. The advance of psychoanalytic work has delineated this meaning of the Oedipus complex ever more sharply; its recognition has become the shibboleth* that separates the devotees of psycho-analysis from its opponents.’
(*In the Bible, those who could not say ‘shibboleth’ were killed.)
But the first to use the term ‘Oedipus complex’ in print were Sándor Ferenczi in ‘Introjection and Transference’ (November 1909) and Ernest Jones in ‘The Oedipus-Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet’s Mystery’ (January 1910).
100 years on, we examine the hypothesis of the ‘Oedipus complex’ and its use to ‘explain’ Hamlet. We repeat the question the philosopher Sidney Hook asked 50 years ago:
‘What kind of evidence are psychoanalysts prepared to accept which would lead them to declare in any specific case that a child did not have an Oedipus complex?’
And we ask: Is it possible to be neither a ‘devotee’ nor an ‘opponent’ of psychoanalysis?

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Students £108, others £135; some bursaries; mineral water, coffee, tea, biscuits, liquorice allsorts included
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail:

For further information on seminars, visit:
The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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