On Hamlet

Freud and Goethe seem both oddly to speak bits of trash and nonsense about Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Freud especially: Why, if one had succeeded in robbing a bank, would the desire to be a bank robber inhibit one from taking revenge, if, say, the successful bank robber killed his own brother one’s father and married his mother ? But Freud says Hamlet’s desire for what Claudius has done causes an hysteric inhibition.

What if Hamlet ought not have killed Claudius at all? Freud and Goethe simply assume he should. Neither account for Hamlet being a student from Wittenberg, nor the possibility that the tragic flaw of Hamlet is that odd other-worldly revenge.

We considered these things in an 2007 essay in Interpretation, and would like to critique Freud’s reading of Oedipus. Freud apparently did not read Book IX of Plato’s Republic, where, as in Plutarch, the dream is associated with usurpation and tyranny. But that may be just as well. Jung considers the material of Oedipus in a better way, in Symbols of Transformation. There is a diversion and a mystery in the return toward- or as Augustine says, through- ones own origin, as is also evident in the question of Nicodemus to Jesus (John 3). Freud uncovered the animal ground of the bodily nature of man. The family is older than man. But the birth of intellect and the royal nature have to do with recollection. Freud is pre-Socratic. The distinction between tyranny and kingship is post-Socratic.

By uncovering what he does about the cause of “neurosis, Freud does not then go on to consider what neurosis is, and so his science does not lead us to understand the proper significance of these things, or how they are to be regarded. Similarly, by uncovering the “Oedipus complex” does not fully tell us what this is or how it is to be regarded. How do we know, for example, that it is not a wish for self knowledge that leads the soul to show the matter of penance to itself? How do we know that what is uncovered is not a fundamental desire for usurpation in our animal nature, something like a sin of Cain, innate, as though with us from Adam, or the fact that we are man? But this gets at the root of why we say that, although, quite famously, Freud turned from the neurological approach to words and psychoanalysis, he is yet pre-Socratic. What first appears upon the uncovering of nature is the body, and the pre-Socratics saw the animal body. It is following Socrates that political philosophy distinguishes between king and tyrant. Darwinian or Empedoclean natural philosophy leaves thinkers assuming that survival and reproduction- the animal ends- are the serious goals of man according to science.

Jung addressed the crux of the Oedipus complex in his Symbols of transformation, about the time of his break with Freud. The attachment to the mother is the attachment to the earth, with the original hierarchy of ends, to be sacrificed in the birth of what may be the royal nature or intellect, the eye of the soul. Freud, in his note to the chapter on the Dream Work (Brill, p. 393) in The Interpretation of Dreams, begins his free association from the topic of the eyes. Oedipus is blinded, but it is not fated, but rather his own action, due to shame. The point of Oedipus is to show the fall from the summit of apparent happiness to the worst shame, without fully intending the evil done, as is the point of Greek tragedy. The dream of Caesar- an undisguised as opposed to a disguised Oedipal dream- occurs as he crosses the Rubicon, that is, as he usurps the rule of Rome, or seizes tyrannic power, establishing the empire and ending the Republic. Freud also notes the example in Herodotus of Hippias (Vi, 107) in a similar connection to usurpation. The dream refers to the limits of our humanity, the root of the difference between men and animals evidenced regarding incest- deeply destructive of our human nature, but the logical conclusion if the animal ends are to govern to soul. The human soul is delicate, and sexual traumas do indeed cause grave confusion, which is the reason surrounding so much of marriage custom- the protection of the unfolding of the specifically human soul. Hence, molestations are to be considered at the root of many of the obsessions, anxieties, hysteria and depression rather than repressed fantasies or animal wishes as the causes of the kinds of “neuroses.” Socrates and Jesus rather teach the birth of the soul out of the cave, and this is the unveiling of the human things or the opening of the eye of the mind, the birth of Nous- a capacity for sight, as distinct from certain knowledge or true opinions. But this capacity allows too for the disturbances of thought called psychoses” as distinct from “neuroses.” The knowledge in the soul is apparent in a disintegrated way in the “symptoms” of madness. Political and psychological knowledge is embodied in analogies, as in parables, indicating the invisible truths regarding the soul that would have to be known fully if one were to govern with wisdom. The symbols are numinous because they come from knowledge and point toward knowledge, even that in the soul from prior to our mortal origins. Hence we say that the knowledge of the soul required at the base of a scientific psychology is kept within the soul. In the myth of recollection, in the context of reincarnation, Socrates describes the mystery, just as he tells Meno he will do, and these may even have been related to the Athenian Elysian mysteries. We say that the teaching of rebirth is not unique to Jesus, but comes through Noah. Nicodemus asks him how one can return to his mother’s womb (John 3) and then there is a diversion, and the teaching that one must be reborn in order to see. Kings and heroes are reborn, having paid the penalty of ancient doom, and this is the cause of the royal speech, rare but attributed to prudent men such as Lincoln and a few others.

Claudius usurps his brother Hamlets Senior’s Queen and kingdom, and it is the task of Hamlet to correct or address this usurpation. Freud does not address usurpation as the fundamental theme of the Oedipus complex, but spins his account of what inhibits the action of Hamlet, and it may well be that if Hamlet were free of the attachment to the earth, his strange revenge would not have prevented his securing the penance and abdication of Claudius.

We are attempting to get our psychology to follow Socrates in making the Socratic turn. In this enterprise, we have set out to examine the origins of the medical model of modern psychiatry, which begins just at the turn of the 20th century with Freud. Our first point is always that our psychiatry simply assumes the categories and the meaning of its Greek words without being able to examine the standard by which diagnoses” are made. And here we see that while I usually underestimate Freud, there is no necessity to his or any other of the first principles of modern psychiatry.

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