In the context of Freud’s theories, and more specifically the essay ‘The dissolution of the Oedipus complex’ I made a short analysis of three images from modern culture (20-21st C). The first two are from popular culture and the last, a slightly longer analysis of a fine art image.
Fig. 1 ‘Why is mother’s milk best?’ (no date)
- This is a ‘naughty postcard’
- The ‘mother’s milk’ clearly symbolises the boy sucking his mum’s breast greedily.
- the boy is clearly too old to be doing this in ‘normal’ circumstances (he even appears to have androgenic facial hair- ‘sideburns’)
- Thus we have an allusion to a pathologoical sexual relationship between boy and his mum, referencing the Oedipus complex. The boy may or may not have literally killed his father, but he is displacing him from the normal parent-parent sexual relationship.
- the milk is warm, and he does not want to share- these facts reinforce a certain biological ‘earthiness’ and evolutionary imperative about his attitude to the milk sucking, alluding to rampant sexual pleasure.
- The teacher’s breasts are obvious
- a highly sexualised image
- the discomfort I feel when viewing this postcard has two elements to it. The first is it’s allusion to a sexual taboo. Some thought his ideas about the importance of unconscious drives (eg. sex) was groundbreaking and bravely original in 19th C society. Others criticised his work for being unscientific and obsessed by sex- perhaps reflecting his own mind ? The second element is the above’s juxtaposition with a normal discourse- that of nurturing infants through healthy nutritious breast milk for the first few months of life. The discomfort jarrs for me a modern, 21st C viewer. When this image was made, society was less worried about what was ‘politically correct’ . Now, though we have an increased tolerance to differences in people and society, we have a heightened state of awareness about broadcast of images which allude to certain Taboos (such as child sexualisation and incest here).
Fig. 2 Oedipus Rex cartoon (no date)
- This cartoon is simpler and more innocent.
- It is much more concerned with ‘the punchline’
- It pokes fun at the relatively recent phenomenon that programmes containing serious issues are often followed by information for those who may have been affected by such issues.
- This is a worthy thing, but taken to extreme, it alludes to an overbearing ‘bourgoisie’ ‘nanny state’ attitude.
- Thus the cartoon mocks this phenomenon by connecting it with the given film ‘Oedipus Rex’, and suggestiung those affected by the complex will be likely to go to the ‘pathological’ female parent for comfort……..
Fig. 3 Ashes (1894)
- Adolescent age (period of transition from innocent child to sexual woman, the culmination of other bodily transitions…. such as the oral and genital stages…)
- Very long hair-( gives her an ‘earthy’ look- long hair symbolic of females in traditional culture) . this overtly sexualises the girl.
- the girl s complexion is ruddy red- alive
- Clutches hair and looks anxious/ shameful?
- Exposed breasts, and her dress is open- the far end of the opening seems to end at the vaginal area..emphasising sex, sexuality, and sexual activity
- Dressed in white (pure/virgin)
- The man’s complexion is pale and deathly grey.
- he is dressed in black , symbolising evil or fear?
- Looks away – why? Ashamed? Or afraid?
- What does he lean on?
- he holds his head as if it hurts…… as if it is the diseased organ. This was the beginning of the times of psycho-analytic theory. before this pathologies were more likely to be considered physical/bodily. Freud concenetrated on the mind as a source of pathology………..
The forest and stream
- Many tall thin tree trunks (these could be interpreted as phalluses)
- Total Darkness lies beyond ( signifying taboo relationships?)
- Is there a deer lying down? the deer is a symbol of Spiritual authority, regeneration , piety/ devotion (González de León, 2015)
- a river? Representing flow? This could be symbolic of the girl’s menstrual flow- a sign of transition from child to adult, or of the flow of time………from childhood to adulthood.
- Ellipsoid shaped rocks nearby, and on the white cloth (eggs?). These ellipsoid shapes may symbolize testicles removed from the girl (or the female equivalent ovaries).
- One of the rocks looks like a skull-symbolic of death
- we seem to be at a picnic- a typical lover’s activity at this time????
Perhaps this girl feels the vagina she has constitutes the loss of a penis, and testicles (she has been castrated, and the symbols of the removed organs lie scattered around). . She still has an Oedipal complex which has not been repressed by the usual means (ie the thwarting of her desires.. say through the birth of further siblings, or the social taboo of incest). Perhaps this father has committed incest with her since childhood?
She has reached puberty with the complex intact, and still desires her father sexually. This is now clearly inappropriate ( the white/black colours may mean Good/Bad, based on the lack of blame on the younger party) . Has she just had sex with the man (her father?), who is now ashamed, or she has tried to seduce him unsuccessfully, and he is hiding and scared of her- suddenly aware of the taboo of incest and what this now means? The deer is barely visible- camouflaged in the wooded background- perhaps symbolising the devotion of the girl to her father, or the way Spiritual authority has been sidelined in this unhealthy situation?
To what does the title refer? Are they the ashes of her childhood, burnt up in the fire and passion of adult sexuality? or the ashes of the ruined father-daughter relationship- spoilt by incest?? Perhaps they are referring to Ash trees? ……in which case the phallic symbology is given pride of place in the title of the piece…..
González de León, M. (2015) Notes on the symbolism of deer [online] at URL http://www.faena.com/aleph/articles/notes-on-the-symbolism-of-deer/ [accessed on 5 July 2017]
Fig. 1 ‘Why is mother’s milk best?’ (no date) [postcard] at URL : https://www.flickr.com/photos/28773898@N04/5718112745/in/photostream/ [accessed on 5 July 2017]
Fig. 2 Proud, B. Oedipus cartoon (no date) [cartoon] at URL : https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/o/oedipus.asp %5Baccessed on 5 July 2017]
Fig. 3 Munch, E. Ashes (1894) [oil on canvas] at URL : http://www.edvard-munch.com/gallery/love/ashes.htm. [accessed on 5 July 2017]