Freud vs. Sophocles
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Freud vs. Sophocles Sun-Tzu said in his Art of War: '"'If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.'"' Every decision and action made is the result of unseen battles between the unconscious and consciousness; man battles against himself as his unconscious tries to make itself the conscious. How much self-knowledge is required to ensure victory when the enemy is one"'"s own unconscious? Or is it wiser to seek knowledge of neither the enemy nor self, but succumb to the battle? The duty of unraveling the struggle between the two psychical forces is fulfilled by Sigmund Freud in his seminal work, The Interpretation of Dreams. By examining the dreams of his patients, Freud identified a comprehensive system that describes the entering of the unconscious into the conscious through the stages of censorship, distortion, displacement, and the preconscious. Sophocles applies Freud"'"s theory to life by adopting the myth of '"'Oedipus the King'"', an exaggerated model that illustrates the workings of the unconscious on everyday life. When information in a man"'"s unconscious threatens his conscious well-being, he will battle then submit to his unconscious due to the inaccessibility of knowledge of his enemy and self. It is crucial to first identify the symbolic representations of Freudian elements and ideas in '"'Oedipus the King'"'.
Despite Tiresias and Jocosta"'"s efforts at fending off the unconscious, they cannot stop Oedipus from seeking self-knowledge. The unraveling of the secrets, instead of giving Oedipus a clearer vision, marks his downfall by providing a gateway through which the unconscious slips. Because he fails to recognize the enemy as his own unconscious, Oedipus"'" acquisition of knowledge only quickens his self-destruction. Sometimes men would employ a different mechanism from censorship against the unconscious-distortion. Freud describes this process as a defense against a '"'wish [which] was unable to express itself except in a distorted shape'"' because there exists a '"'disagreeable story at the back of it which [one wants] to avoid becoming aware of'"' (175, 171). For Oedipus, the disagreeable story which he wants to avoid is his curse. Distortion takes place when Oedipus learns of his curse, and abandons Corinth '"'by the stars, running, always running toward some place where [he] would never see the shame of all those oracles come true'"' (ll.878-880). The gods give Oedipus a disagreeable oracle, and the censorship agency stops it from entering his consciousness. Oedipus does show initial acceptance of the curse, however, for it is due to fear of the prophecy"'"s fulfillment that he leaves Corinth. Yet his consciousness does not allow dwelling of this dangerous information which can jeopardize his well-being.
When Oedipus learns of his curse as a youth, the information is displaced and stored in system preconscious, where it stays dormant, or is deliberately forgotten. In system preconscious, memories can be either brought into the consciousness or cast back into the unconscious, depending on perceptual stimuli. According to Freud, the two sources of stimuli for unconscious thoughts entering consciousness are the '"'perceptual system, whose excitation [is] determined by qualities...and the interior of the apparatus itself'"' (654). Sophocles gives Oedipus the plague for a perceptual excitation, and lets Oedipus delve into his own preconscious to recall elements from within his memories. When excitation materials flow into consciousness from both ends of the apparatus, an unconscious thought enters consciousness. Confronted with the plague at hand and troubled by his mysterious past, Oedipus seeks prohibited answers and suffers disastrous consequences. When a man tries to enter the forbidden and inaccessible unconscious, the results can be hazardous. The disaster is multiplied if he tries to access information that jeopardizes his welfare. Oedipus falsely assumes that knowing the enemy and self would bring him victory; yet he fails to realize that his enemy and self are one. Whether it is the screening of censorship, the distortion of displacement, or the limbo preconscious, the unconscious fights through layers of protections and finds expression in consciousness. Oedipus"'" quest into the unconscious and prohibited knowledge cost him his fatal end.
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