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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 17 (Oct. 1999)


René Girard and Sigmund Freud:

A comparative study.

The Oedipus complex of the man:

A debate.

A non-published master-dissertation by Bartel Volckaert, Centre for research of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychology, Catholic University of Leuven. 1999.

René Girard claims that an approach in terms of the mimetic theory makes the Oedipus complex much simpler to understand. - In fact, Girard claims having found a more economical theory than Freud's psychoanalytic theory. - Firstly, the dissertation looks in detail at Girard's alternative explanation of the Oedipus complex of the man and its inherent concepts, such as the intrinsic desire to the mother, identification, prohibition of incest, the role of sexuality, ambivalence, bisexuality and homosexuality. Secondly, the thesis discusses this mimetic view at length.

In a first and general reply to Girard's criticism, detailed in chapter three, light is thrown on the context in which the Oedipus complex took shape. In addition, the author set out - equally built up to Girard's criticism he elaborated before in chapter two - some important psychoanalytic concepts which gain an insight into the Oedipus complex (e.g. the sexual drive and its object, the castration complex, the super-ego, the unconscious, repression...) and are in contrast with Girard's own comprehension of these Freudian notions. All this intents to show that Girard's reading and understanding of the Oedipus complex is too limited. According to the author, this shouldn't be a surprise. After all, he says, Girard's criticism on the Oedipus complex is mainly based on only two Freudian texts, namely Massenpsychology und Ich-Analyse and Das Ich und das Es. Besides, Freud never gave a complete and systematic specification of the Oedipus complex. Freud's psychoanalytic theory was always in progress. So was his explanation of the Oedipus complex. In that way, Girard's criticism ought to be seen as very fragmentary.

In a second and more specific reply, detailed in chapter four, Bartel Volckaert reread the Freudian texts Massenpsychology und Ich-Analyse and Das Ich und Das Es. He demonstrates, after a thorough exegesis, that Girard also read those two Freudian works too selectively. For example: Girard contends that Freud claims in Massenpsychology that the identification with the father is presented anterior to any choice of object. In fact, Freud never did so. (Freud wrote that "gleichzeitig" as this identification with his father and "vielleicht sogar vorher" the boy has begun to develop a true object-cathexis towards his mother.) In another passage Girard states that Freud initially saw the path of mimetic desire stretching out before him in Massenpsychology and deliberately turned aside from it in Das Ich und das Es. Girard illustrates this, postulating that Massenpsychology deals with an intensification of the object-cathexis by the identification with the father - a so called mimetic influence - and that this intensification rests unmotivated in Das Ich und das Es. However, this is a new misreading. In fact, this intensification of the object-cathexis only appears in Das Ich und das Es. Therefore, there couldn't have been a deliberate turning aside of the path of mimetic desire.

In spite of this analysis of Girard's criticism, the author emphasises the common ground that exists between Girard's mimetic theory and the Freudian psychoanalysis (e.g. the notion "die Bedingung des Geschädigten Dritten", chapter four of Massenpsychology: Suggestion and Libido, ...).

Bartel Volckaert