Freud produced the myth of the murder of the Father in order to found the Oedipus on it. He constructed the myth from the research of anthropologists who more or less dropped the story into his lap. In the primitive horde the primal father kept all the women to himself, giving his sons no sexual access to them. The punishment for any one of them who did gain such access was castration. The sort of castration suffered here was real. The sons had no way out of this situation other than to murder the father. After it was accomplished, overwhelmed by guilt, they developed what became known as the totemic system. Freud also called it the totemic religion, the totem animal being a surrogate father. The two principle ordinances of the totemic religion are not to kill the totem animal and not to have sexual relations with a woman of the same totem. There are exceptions to the killing of the totem animal. It may be killed and eaten on festive days when the whole clan participates in the killing and the eating. This act of the entire clan reinforces identification with the father. Freud notes that these two prohibitions, the ban on sexual relations with women of the same clan and on the killing and eating of the totem animal by an individual as opposed to the whole clan, coincide with the two crimes of Oedipus who killed his father and married his mother. The totemic religion coincides with the Oedipus. [1] By suspending the prohibition on killing the totem animal on festive days when the entire clan participates in eating it, the ethnographic Oedipus makes it clear that these prohibitions form the basis of a social bond.

Lacan starts out from the threshold of history when the imago of the father appears who is bound up with the pacifying function of the ego ideal. [2] Coming as he does on the threshold of history, this must be the symbolic Father. Lacan thinks that it’s the reason in the contemporary family as an institution that the Oedipus can only appear in patriarchal form. [3] The one who does not accept castration, namely the primal father, triggers the formation of the set whose members do accept it. [4]

Situating the Oedipus in a sort of ethnographic context is the desire of Freud. Freud shows himself to be dedicated to the monotheistic message despite his declaration of atheism. Our psychical reality according to the Freudian doctrine is structured like monotheism, the Oedipus being the structure through which the monotheistic message is transmitted. The precondition for the mind to be structured like the Oedipus is the signifier of the Father. He is indeed the opium of the people- to a point. The two ordinances can become the father’s enjoyment. They are the mode of enjoyment of the Name-of-the-Father. In fact, that the signifier itself enjoys is implied in the origin of the Name-of-the-Father. That there has also been a remarkable decline in the paternal function does not escape Lacan. From the perspective of this decline one grasps that the Name-of-the-Father has never been anything else than a semblance.

Lacan reminds us of the double reference Freud gives to the ego, firstly to one’s own body which is narcissism, secondly to the complexity of three orders of identification. [5] Of course, there is an imaginary identification in the reference to one’s own body. He is not counting it amongst these three orders. The first order is based on identification with the paternal ideal. The other two orders are not at present under discussion here. They are identification with the unary trait and with desire. Identification with the paternal ideal prepares the way for the Oedipus, according to Freud. It operates before the Oedipus, during the Oedipus and at the end of the Oedipus. It is pre-Oedipal and Oedipal. [6] Post Oedipal too? Lacan remarks that identification with the father is primary in Freud’s doctrine. In other words, the signifier of the Father creates the conditions that enable the Oedipus to exist. [7] Lacan picks up something about Freud here who thinks that the father deserves all the love. According to Lacan, it goes against the analytical discourse, against the discourse of all the analysts for whom primary identification is with the mother. [8]

In Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism Freud founded the paternal ideal on the murder of the father. The ubiquity of the paternal ideal is the result. The totem is just such an ideal. He had already recruited Sophocles’ Oedipus to testify to this murder. He also recruited Hamlet and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Parricide is the primal crime of humanity. [9] It is replayed in the Oedipus of each subject. The boy hates the father as his rival and no doubt for punishments received from him. It culminates in a desire to murder the father in order to possess the mother. The wish to possess his mother comes under a severe prohibition which includes punishment by castration. He gives up the wish to murder his father. But the wishes remain active in the unconscious forming the basis of the sense of guilt.

Lacan in his period of the return to Freud follows the Freudian tradition of the paternal ideal. A set of ideal signifiers has been structuring the human mind. In honour of this Lacan will early on in his teaching call upon the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father, a signifier higher than all the other signifiers. ‘It is not natural for man to bear the weight of the highest of signifiers all alone.’ [10] I would say that this weight is a measure of the signifier’s enjoyment. Its weight is shared by the members of a community formed in honour of it. It is transmitted by the big Other which is completed by it, acting as an attraction on the subject to making the Oedipal identification with the paternal ideal. It tames the death drive, and the subject transcends previous aggressivity. The transformation that the identification produces in the subject is a signifying one that brings peace. In other words, the establishment of the pleasure principle is correlative to the functioning of the Name-of-the-Father.

Lacan goes a bit further than Freud in exposing the mind structured like a religion, based on the signifier One which is the master-signifier. Freud observes that religious ritual is structured like an obsessional neurosis. For Freud and certainly for Lacan religion is the standard bearer of narcissism. Making the woman the example of narcissism doesn’t really work. She cannot guarantee eternal life on the fulfilment of certain criteria. It’s the thought of eternal life that provides one with narcissistic satisfaction, the satisfaction of preserving good form. The body of the holy man is not corruptible. ‘Never mind evolutionism, man will continue to believe that he alone is the flower of creation. It’s the fundamental belief of what constitutes him as a religious being.’ [11] In fact both creationists and evolutionists have good reason to hold up man as the flower of the universe. The ego dresses itself up in a chasuble, according to Lacan, which is a vestment worn by the clergy to hide the object (a). [12] Under the aegis of the Name-of-the-Father the field of the Other is guaranteed as complete and consistent. The complete and consistent Other has a logic indexed on the letter capital A (Autre). When the bar falls across the Other, it becomes inconsistent and decompleted, making its operation in psychical life erratic, making it, even, the Other that does not exist: the barred A. [13]

For Lacan the Other is structured like a religion. The Other is an Oedipal Other, and the unconscious structured like a language is an Oedipal unconscious. The Name-of-the-Father orders meaning at the level of the signified as phallic. This structure is represented by the paternal metaphor: Name-of-the-Father (Other/phallus). The subject must, of course, accept this signifier of the Other. Lacan more often uses Freud’s term for the subject’s affirmation of the signifier: Bejahung. To keep to the theme that I just introduced, we could call it an act of faith. Affirmation of the signifier of the Father relies on the mother’s know-how in eliciting the subject’s consent. Subjective consent to the signifier of the paternal ideal is based on a judgment of attribution which leads to an Einbeziehung ins Ich. The signifier of the Father is interiorised, introjected which is a symbolic mechanism. What is encoded in the song “My heart belongs to daddy” is a heart that belongs to the monotheistic message. [14]

In Seminar III we find two statements which are made at the level of the ego ideal. Only the first is an ideal statement: “Tu es celui qui me suivras” in which the verb is conjugated in the chummy, second person singular, suivras. ‘I am addressing you in this manner, and you elect to follow me.’ In an act of faith the subject accepts the signifier of the Other which is followed by an Einbeziehung ins Ich, that is, by an identification with the ideal signifier, including its interiorisation. The result is the attachment of the subject’s desire to the Other’s desire. There is an invocation to follow that has religious connotations, says Lacan. [15] There are a number of ways the subject can end up in his relation to the ego ideal: “thou art the one who doeth my will;” “thou art the one who followeth me like a little dog;” “thou art the one who followeth me through trials and tribulations;” “thou art the one who followeth the law.” [16] Lacan is making the point that the mind is structured like a religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. [17] And of all religions he says that it is the sole which attempts to establish the sexual relation between the sexes. [18] Since there are a lot of religions outside this tradition, I cannot confirm whether the latter tradition is the sole. He will also towards the end of the 1960s make the point that the Oedipus is useless to the analyst. [19] That has to be the beginning of something new.

In the second statement, “Tu est celui qui me suivra“, where the verb is conjugated in the third person, suivra, I am not being addressed directly. I shall rapidly have a stomach full by following you. I do not attach my desire to your desire which does not mean that it cannot be the desire of the little other, my imaginary partner, le désir c’est le désir de l’autre. When the subject does not consent to identify with the signifier of the Other, the ego ideal does not function as usual. Lacan represents it with an interrupted sentence: “Thou art the one who. . .” [20] The suspension points indicate that at the level of the signified no meaning can be extracted from the signifiers ‘Thou art the one who. . .’ These signifiers are in the real. In Seminar III the interruption is the effect not of repression but of foreclosure which is a radical rejection of the paternal ideal. The repressed signifier returns in the symbolic in a disguised form. The foreclosed signifier returns in the real. Both language and the unconscious structured like a language operate in the symbolic order. When the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father is foreclosed, that is, radically rejected such that it cannot operate in the usual, pacifying way, it leads to an Ausstossung aus dem Ich, that is, the signifier is exteriorised outside the subject and outside the symbolic but, of course, influences the symbolic. The exterior in question is not reality but the real. [21] It has persecutory effects. The subject itself has to create the signified at the point the sentence is interrupted- if he can. This is probably why the French sometimes call it a délire interprétant. It doesn’t work too well in English, an interpretation/interpreting delusion. If the subject wants some meaning at the point of the interruption, he has to do what the analyst does, namely interpret. The real in the case of Schreberian psychosis locates the father’s enjoyment in what Lacan calls l’Un-père, the One-father. This One-father is not a make-believe. The weight of this highest of all signifiers is too heavy even for the community to bear.

The real is outside the subject and has a traumatic value for him/her. [22] The function of language in relation to the real is disabled. The capacity for symbolisation of the real is considerably weakened, including the capacity for renunciation. [23] In neurosis the paternal ideal brings peace by symbolising the real, by cutting it up into discrete units called signifiers. When the ego ideal is foreclosed, the subject’s identifications are weakened. In Schema I they are dissolved. [24] The first ideal statement above involves repression and love that links the subject in a bondage to the ideal. The second statement is not, then, an ideal statement since the identification is interrupted. The interruption is the structure of psychosis. Both these statements bring their own kind of pain.

In chapter 8 of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego Freud discusses two identifications, one between two egos and one between the ego and the ego ideal. In the identification between two egos, that is between the ego and its specular image, the effect of idealisation is sexual overvaluation. Narcissistic libido circulates between the object (specular image) and the ego at the level of the imaginary with effects of Verliebtheit, of being in love, hainamoration. [25] The object is treated like our own ego. It leaves the object free from a certain amount of criticism, by which Freud means that judgement in the imaginary is impaired. Sexual overvaluation and Verliebtheit support the sexual relation. Idealisation can go further and put the object not in the place of the specular image but in place of the ego ideal and is what usually happens in the little subject’s relation to the Other. The ego in relation to the ego ideal becomes unassuming and the ego ideal becomes sublime. The object is loved for its spiritual merits, and love becomes bondage. It is the ideal associated with the statement “Tu est celui qui me suivras“. It is associated with a renunciation of enjoyment. A neurotic subject will extract satisfaction out of bondage to the Ideal which suggests that not all enjoyment is renounced. It would be the enjoyment of the little dog.

The hypnotic relation is given as model of the devotion of someone in love with the ego ideal with sexual satisfaction excluded. Although it has only two members, it is already a group formation. Freud is defining group on the basis of a leader and a follower with sexual satisfaction excluded. Hypnosis reveals the behaviour of the subject to the leader. The leader has an ideal function. It is registered in the diagram at the end of chapter 8 of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. A relation to this sort of ego ideal with its investment of love leads to, according to Freud, self-injury, that is, to the said bondage. Nevertheless, the ego ideal is stabilising the imaginary identifications between group members. The members of the group have put one and the same object in the place of the ego ideal (vertical identification) and have identified (horizontal) with each other at the level of the ego. [26] where the vertical, hierarchical identification is acting as a social bond. Freud only gave us two models of community, the Church and the Army. The original model must be the totem clan. This vertical identification is no doubt the structure of the family as well, considerably weakened in our part of the world. Lacan has his own schema of the leader and the follower, namely Schema R:

[Schema R]

The ego ideal is a whip, [27] says Lacan, which is a sign of love, of love-bondage. In the second phase of the beating fantasy the subject is being beaten by the father which is the sign of his love. [28] In the case of the girl, she is the object of the father’s desire, and any guilt experienced is satisfied in the beating. The whip is a signifier held by the master, to say it like Lacan. In the third phase of the beating fantasy the subject has entered the world of desire and suffers the law imposed by the father, the law of flogging. The whip, he says, is the model for the relation to the desire of the Other. [29] The Other’s desire is ruled by the law. He says in one place that the ego ideal is established by object-choice and not by identification, an object-choice that has its roots in paternal love. [30] Lacan may be saying that because Freud considers object-choice one step ahead and identification two steps backwards.

Although both mother and father are elements in the construction of the ego ideal, it includes the signifier of the phallus, that is, it is predominantly a paternal ideal. The Father at one apex of the rectangle and the phallus at the opposite apex is Saussure’s sign with the signifier of the Father at the superior level and the phallus at the level of the signified which is also the paternal metaphor:


Of course, this is also a critique of the very practice of psychoanalysis where the analyst may occupy the place of the Ideal. He is given that place by the analysand as an effect of transference but doesn’t speak from it. He doesn’t speak like an Oedipal father. Nevertheless, in his early teaching there is a goal of finding a better position in the Oedipus for the analysand, of Versöhnung (reconciliation) and reintegration into it. [31] He must have thought for a moment that the Oedipus was essential for the structuring of the mind. The analysand will, of course, speak about the Oedipus to the analyst for whom it is useless. [32]

The Oedipus has a monotheistic, religious structure, which has been structuring the mind since the dawn of history. Freud thought that the Oedipus of the contemporary subject was in due course destroyed. In fact, it had to be destroyed. If it is merely repressed, there will be symptoms. Women, on the other hand, remain in the Oedipus for an indeterminate length of time. She, after all, loves her father, and no great harm is done. It’s always possible that it was Freud who loved his father too much. If the Oedipus no longer exists, what maintains the two ordinances of the totemic system? When Lacan talks about Versöhnung as an end to the analysis, he must have these questions of structure in mind. Can the Oedipus be destroyed without destroying castration which maintains the two ordinances of the totemic system? Is it possible to make a distinction between castration and the Oedipus? Freud says that the destruction of the Oedipus is brought about by the threat of castration. Castration emerged and the Oedipus crumbled. Could it not be that the Oedipus is a tendency to incest and castration a prohibition of incest? [33]

There is no paternal ideal identification in psychosis and therefore the Oedipus is very seriously flawed. [34] The psychotic is free of the allegiances aroused by the Ideal. The neurotic is in a bondage to social exigencies which are conveyed by way of the ego ideal. In this sense Lacan was able to say that the psychotic is a free man. Maybe! The psychotic’s allegiance is to his delusion, and he is not too free in that.

Richard Klein, Finsbury Park, London



About the author:

Richard Klein is a practising analyst living and working in London. The following papers issue from clinical experience, textual labour and his characteristic commitment to the transmission of psychoanalysis in the Lacanian orientation.


  • [1] Freud, Totem and Taboo (1912-13), SE13, p. 132.
  • [2] Lacan, J., ‘Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis’ (1948), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 95.
  • [3] Lacan, J., ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’ (1946), op. cit, p. 150.
  • [4] This can be found written in logical notation on p. 78 of the English edition of Encore in the upper left hand corner of the table of sexuation.
  • [5] Lacan, J., “My Antecedents” (1966), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 54.
  • [6] Freud (1921), SE 18, pp. 105-6.
  • [7] ‘Kantianism exists only as an enunciation of the conditions of a possible morality as such.’ Lardreau, La véracité: essai d’une philosophie negative, Lagrasse: Verdier, 1993, p. 149. One interprets this sentence as the Kantian moral law is not morality as such but as the enabling condition of morality much as the Name-of-the-Father is the condition of the Oedipus.
  • [8] Lacan, J., The Seminar, book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-70), W.W. Norton & Co., 2007, p. 88.
  • [9] Freud, ‘Dostoievsky and Parricide’ (1928), SE21.
  • [10] Lacan, J., ‘Seminar on “The Purloined Letter”‘ (1955/56), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, pp. 28-9.
  • [11] Lacan, J., ‘Petit Discours a l’ORTF’, broadcast 1966, published in Autres ecrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 222.
  • [12] Lacan, J., ‘Discours a l’Ecole freudiene de Paris‘ (1967), Autres ecrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 262.
  • [13] John Gray, author of The Immortalisation Commission, Allen Lane, 2011, in which he has published his researches on anti-death movements, compares and contrasts the psychical researchers in the UK with the God-builders in Soviet Russia. In the UK evolutionism was an intolerable vision for those who had given up religion. They turned to science to escape the world that science had revealed. They were seeking evidence that the human personality survived death. The method was automatic writing. Some very well known scientists, writers and philosophers banded together to found the Society for Psychical Research. One of the founders was Myers who invented the word telepathy and introduced Freud into the UK in the 19th century. The anti-death movement inRussia emerges out of the Bolshevik Party itself. Stalin believed that embalming Lenin would comply with the Russian Orthodox belief that the bodies of saints are incorruptible. Some others had the idea that I only thought could be found in America minus the Bolshevism, of course, that Lenin must be preserved perfectly until science could resurrect him. Lunacharsky, a Government Minister, was a devotee of Madam Blavatsky. He recognised that Bolshevism was at bottom a religious movement. One can declare one’s atheism over and against a religious strucuture. This is rather similar to an absence of psychotic phenomena over and against psychotic structure.
  • [14] I forget the name of the woman whom I first heard sing this song. It was always a woman I heard singing it. She could not have been an obsessional which logically puts the woman closer to apostasy than the man. How many, finally, betray the father?
  • [15] Lacan, J., The Seminar book III, The Psychoses (1955-6), W.W. Norton & Co., 1993, p. 304
  • [16] Ibid., p. 285.
  • [17] Ibid., p. 287.
  • [18] Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, livre IV, La relation d’object (1956-7), Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1994, p. 373.
  • [19] Lacan, J., The Seminar, Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-70), W.W.Norton &Co., 2007, p. 99.
  • [20] Lacan, J., The Seminar, book III, The Psychoses (1955-6), W.W. Norton & Co., 1993, p. 305.
  • [21] Lacan announced in 1952 or 53 the three categories of his topology: the real, the symbolic and the imaginary. The principle of the imaginary is the mirror stage. The principle of the symbolic is the signifier which allows the dialectic of presence and absence. The real has to wait for a long time before a systematic elaboration begins. The real begins as a psychiatric category in association with the mechanism of foreclosure. The foreclosed Ideal signifier loses its symbolic function. Something has a presence without absence. A total presence defines pain. Well, the real is pain.
  • [22] The concept of the real and that of jouissance are overlapping concepts, but not completely.
  • [23] Lacan, J., “Response to Jean Hyppolite’s Commentary on Freud’s Verneinung” (1954), op. cit., p. 324.
  • [24] Lacan, J., ‘On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis’ (1957-8), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 476.
  • [25] Found on p. 98 of the English edition of Encore. It indicates that there is enjoyment in love.
  • [26] Freud, S., Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1920), SE XVIII, p. 111 to 116.
  • [27] Lacan, J., Le Seminaire, livre V, Les formations de l’inconscient (1957-8), Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1998, pp. 242, 345.
  • [28] Freud, ‘A Child is being Beaten': A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of sexual Perversions’ (1919), SE 17.
  • [29] Lacan (1957-8), op. cit., pp. 238-43.
  • [30] Lacan, J., Le Seminaire, livre IV. La relation d’objet (1956-7), Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1994, pp. 171-6.
  • [31] Lacan, J., ‘The Instance of the letter in the unconscious’ (1957), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 435.
  • [32] Lacan himself is of two minds about topology. In one he makes metaphorical use of topology. In the other topology is of direct use. Does it become of direct use when the Oedipus becomes useless?
  • [33] Freud, ‘Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex’ (1924), SE 19, p. 177.
  • [34] Lacan (1957-8), op. cit., pp. 150-1.

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