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Freud's Traumatic Memory

Reclaiming Seducation Theory and Revisiting Oedipus

By Mary Marcel

Publication Year: 2005

One of the most important questions in Freud scholarship concerns why, after touting traumatic childhood sexual abuse as the cause of hysteria, Freud turned away from “seduction theory” and instead created the Oedipus complex and the theory of childhood sexuality. In this study, Mary Marcel applies the most recent clinical work on trauma and recovered memory to Freud’s memories. Her use of rhetorical analysis reveals that Freud’s own reasons for abandoning the seduction theory were unfounded and misanalyzed. Marcel relates how, near the beginning of his self-analysis in 1897, Freud recovered a memory of having been molested by his nurse in infancy. Deeply troubled, Freud misread a favorite Greek myth and created the Oedipus complex as a means of regaining a sense of control over himself and the nurse’s crime. Marcel’s book is a comprehensive analysis of both the original Oedipus myths and the Greek myths of father-daughter incest. Closely analyzing Freud’s biography, his early career, his letters to his confidante Wilhelm Fliess and the Oedipus myth in its full complexity, Marcel applies a multiplicity of methods and casts a completely new light on what is in fact Freud’s thorough misrepresentation of both Oedipus and the incest taboo. By analyzing Freud’s arguments, recovered memories from self-analysis and misuse of classical sources, Marcel uncovers why Freud turned away from seduction theory, misconstrued Oedipus, and was unable to cure his own neurosis.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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pp. viii-ix

Without the help of many people, this book would have been a project interminable. The librarians at Brandeis University Library, Northeastern University Library and the Library of Congress were helpflll in innumerable ways. I would especially like to express my gratitude to Catherine Cronin, Sheila Ekman and Marcia McKoy of...

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INTRODUCTION: The Asymmetry of Taboo and the Unbearable Idea

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pp. 1-10

The Oedipus complex concerns a neurosis, not a trauma. This book is about the trauma behind the Oedipus complex. There are three strands of research in psychoanalysis in which this book participates. The first is the genre of works that seeks to gain insight into Freud’s psychoanalytic theorizing by examining Freud’s biography. The second is the recent spate of works that very closely...

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1. Freud’s Seduction

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pp. 11-37

In the same important letter in which Sigmund Freud announces his “discovery” of the “universal” situation of Oedipus, he also tells Wilhelm Fliess that “fleetingly the thought passed through my head that the same thing might be at the bottom of Hamlet as well.”1 He first states that he believes “that a real event stimulated the poet to his representation, in that his unconscious understood the unconscious...

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2. Freud and French Forensic Medicine

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pp. 38-61

In order to understand the development of Freud’s “seduction theory,” that repressed childhood sexual traumas sat at the base of hysterical symptom formation, it is useful to consider the postdoctoral work Freud completed with the leading lights of French forensic medicine during the late 1880s. While Freud’s interest in the work of Charcot has been relatively well discussed, research on Freud’s...

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3. Analyzing Freud’s Arguments in “The Aetiology of Hysteria”

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pp. 62-80

Having examined the general climate of opinion regarding the sexual abuse of children in Europe and the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century, the contentions that Freud recanted his views due to opportunism or moral collapse take on a different cast. Freud at that point was probably less aware of the overall sense of his times than he was sensitive to the conditions immediately before him and...

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4. Reconsidering Freud’s Recanting: Scientific and Therapeutic Failures

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pp. 81-112

When, in September 1897, Freud wrote to Fliess to tell him that he was abandoning his theory that gave credence to patients’ stories, he gave him several reasons for doing so. His patients all left before he could complete analysis with them. He could not imagine all fathers were guilty of sexual crimes, as his theory supposed they must be. With no reality factor in the unconscious, he was unable to...

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5. Freud Finds Oedipus

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pp. 113-130

If the Oedipus complex is to be accepted as a powerful, mythically based hermeneutic system for understanding the human psyche, it seems worth examining, in light of all that we know about Oedipus and his father, Freud’s grasp of the mythic structure he both adopts and adapts. What did Freud understand about Oedipus before he changed Oedipus into the Oedipus complex? How fully...

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6. Seducing Power: Laius and the Crisis over the Rape of a Citizen Boy

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pp. 131-155

While Freud does not take up the business of Oedipus until 1897, in the chronology of his life, we know that by 1859 terrible deeds had already been perpetrated upon his young person. Freud’s perpetrator was his nursemaid, and yet, in The Interpretation of Dreams, she drops out entirely from consideration. She is replaced by the mother, for whom the boy Sigmund felt inappropriate sexual arousal, after...

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7. Seducing the Scapegoat: Greek Mythology and Father-Daughter Incest

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pp. 156-177

The world of drama is sometimes like the world of journalism. The story that gets dramatized is the man-bites-dog story. We are struck by people doing things we do not expect them to: Willy Loman the optimistic salesman killing himself; Hamlet mourning his father too long; Antigone defying her uncle Creon; Clytemnestra killing her husband Agamemnon at the moment of his triumphant return from...

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8. Freud as Twentieth Century Patient

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pp. 178-185

Judith Herman has written that after the rejection of his seduction theory by the Viennese establishment, the only source of support that could have enabled Freud to sustain his theory was the nascent feminist movement. This, of course, he rejected.1 The subsequent development of psychoanalysis was certainly shaped by Freud’s desire to reinstantiate himself within the prevailing views of his times, which granted...


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pp. 186-201


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pp. 202-215

INDEX [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 217-221

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705699
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703640
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703648

Page Count: 230
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 794700835
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Freud's Traumatic Memory

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Subject Headings

  • Oedipus complex.
  • Seduction -- Psychological aspects -- History.
  • Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939.
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