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The Sphinx and the Riddles of Passion, Love and Sexuality

Contributions by Stefano Bolognini, Rainer Gross and Sylvia Zwettler-Otte- Preface by Alain Gibeault

Edited By Sylvia Zwettler-Otte

An international cooperation of psychoanalysts presents the role of symbolization in the development of the human mind. Based on Freud’s theory of the Unconscious and of infantile sexuality we have now a deeper understanding of myths like Oedipus and the Sphinx and the representations of human struggles in art. In this book, this is illustrated from prehistoric paintings until poetry of the 20th century. The Sphinx, half animal, half human, represents the elaborations of sexual fantasies revealing desires and fears. She symbolizes an archaic maternal imago, seductive and threatening, omnipotent and enigmatic. She is a symbol of contradictions like drive and reason or gain and loss of knowledge. Case stories show that patients today feel not «devoured by the Sphinx», but by their work («burn out»), by annihilation anxiety, narcissistic or borderline disturbances, psychosomatic problems etc. But the «archaic mother never dies».


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Three balancing acts of the Sphinx (Sylvia Zwettler-Otte)


63 Three balancing acts of the Sphinx Sylvia Zwettler-Otte The Sphinx, half animal, half human, represents the human struggles and con- flicts between drive and reason, desire and fear, seduction and prohibition and many other polarities. She is a representation of our efforts to balance between contradictory options. “[…] walking on wire between the Twin Towers is both horrifying and fasci- nating”, Adam Phillips introduces his essays about balance (Phillips 2011, XI). In the following three parts I’ll try to show this ambiguity involved in three as- pects: the struggles and conflicts between polarities, the oscillating movements between our increasing knowledge and our simultaneous unconscious denial, and our change in direction looking forward to the future and back to the past. Can we solve the riddle of sexual love without killing the Sphinx?1 In a touching letter of Freud to his fiancèe Martha he identifies himself – not with Oedipus – but with the Sphinx asking riddles2. To give the right answer to the Sphinx was a question of life and death and had the meaning of the Delphic oracle’s injunction ‘Know yourself!’ Some years later, after Freud had discovered that we all might recognize our own desires in this myth, he identified himself with Oedipus. This shift of identifi- cation from the Sphinx to Oedipus raises further questions like: Has sexual love always to do with transgression? Why has the Sphinx to die, when the riddle is solved? These questions might be essential for our psychoanalytic work, since the...

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