Essay Sample on Oedipus disagreeable oracle

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. Thus it is distorted into the notion that by running away from Corinth, where Oedipus believes to be his native land, he would escape his unfavorable fate. Because of his refusal of his fate upon first notification, Oedipus is denied from full access to his unconscious; this inaccessibility eventually leads to his downfall.

When distortion fails to block the entrance of an unfavorable, unconscious thought, the censorship agency resorts to yet another method which Freud names displacement. For the purpose of dissimulation, the agency ‘”‘strips the elements which have a high psychical value of their intensity…and creates from elements of low psychical value new values…it is as a result of these that the difference between the dream-content and that of the dream-thoughts comes about'”‘ (342-343). Displacement occurs when the message from the unconscious is too overwhelming for censorship. Instead of barring or twisting the information, the defense mechanism creates a pseudo-message based on the original. In order to distort the unconscious thought into an unrecognizable form, the agency redistributes a new set of values during screening.

The purpose of displacement is to infect the original message with so much transference of energy so that it is no longer unfavorable, but acceptable to the conscious. When the messenger from Corinth announces Polybus”‘” natural death, Oedipus”‘” defense agency processes the information by displacing its values: ‘”‘Why look to the Prophet”‘”s hearth…well look, [Polybus is] dead and buried…all those prophecies I feared-they”‘”re nothing, worthless'”‘ (ll.1054, 1058). Oedipus focuses only on the fact that Polybus died not at his hand, but does not consider the possibility that Polybus could not be his father. He places so much importance on the naturalness of Polybus”‘” death that even Jocosta joins him in rejoicing; ‘”‘But your father”‘”s death, that, at least, is a great blessing, joy to the eyes!'”‘ (ll. 1082-1083)

Oedipus and Jocosta would rather celebrate their father”‘”s natural death to strip themselves of the responsibility for committing patricide and incest. The lack of information on his family background weakens Oedipus”‘” position as he counteracts his unconscious. If he has had knowledge of his true birth, then the effects of his unconscious becoming conscious might have been less severe. Yet because he distorts his first acknowledgement of the curse, he continues to deny and reject his fate. For example, Oedipus again experiences displacement when he finds a breach between his and Jocosta”‘”s account of the incident: ‘”‘You said thieves-he told you a whole band of them murdered Laius…I cannot be the killer. One can”‘”t equal many'”‘ (ll.931, 932, 934). Like a drowning man clinging to a piece of straw, Oedipus takes refuge in any petty detail, regardless of its relevance, and protects himself against unconscious truth. His rejection of the unconscious knowledge shows the censorship agency”‘”s displacement at work. The importance of the evidence is reduced, while trifles, such as the death of Polybus and slip of words, are endowed with great attention. Psychical intensities have been misplaced, and the unconscious thought is temporarily hampered from entering consciousness.

The last bulwark protecting consciousness is a limbo named preconscious, where an unconscious thought dwells before full manifestation. Freud calls preconscious memory, a system that ‘”‘stands like a screen between the system unconscious and consciousness…[that] not merely bars access to consciousness, [but] also controls access to the power of voluntary movement'”‘ (653). 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.