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Price: $64.50

Paperback 272 pp.
138 mm x 216 mm



Publication date:
June 2009

Imprint: OUP UK

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Freudian Mythologies

Greek Tragedy and Modern Identities

Rachel Bowlby

More than a hundred years ago, Freud made a new mythology by revising an old one: Oedipus, in Sophocles' tragedy the legendary perpetrator of shocking crimes, was an Everyman whose story of incest and parricide represented the fulfilment of universal and long forgotten childhood wishes. The Oedipus complex - child, mother, father - suited the nuclear families of the mid-twentieth century. But a century after the arrival of the psychoanalytic Oedipus, it might seem that modern lives are very much changed. Typical family formations and norms of sexual attachment are changing, while the conditions of sexual difference, both biologically and socially, have undergone far-reaching modifications. Today, it is possible to choose and live subjective stories that the first psychoanalytic patients could only dream of. Different troubles and enjoyments are speakable and unspeakable; different selves are rejected, discovered, or sought. Many kinds of hitherto unrepresented or unrepresentable identity have entered into the ordinary surrounding stories through which children and adults find their bearings in the world, while others have become obsolete. Biographical narratives that would previously have seemed unthinkable or incredible--'a likely story!'--have acquired the straightforward plausibility of a likely story.

This book takes two Freudian routes to think about some of the present entanglements of identity. First, it follows Freud in returning to Greek tragedies - Oedipus and others - which may now appear strikingly different in the light of today's issues of family and sexuality. And second, it re-examines Freud's own theories from these newer perspectives, drawing out different strands of his stories of how children develop and how people change (or don't). Both kinds of mythology, the classical and the theoretical, may now, in their difference, illuminate some of the forming stories of our contemporary world of serial families, multiple sexualities, and new reproductive technologies.

Readership : Literary scholars and students, Classicists, Psychoanalysts.


  • `Review from previous edition ...an engaging and stimulating study for academics who are not of a psychoanalytic persuasion themselves, but are interested in the potency of myth and its effect on the construction of identity politics.'
    Lucie Armitt, Contemporary Women's Writing
  • `a very welcome contribution to a growing body of work that continues to probe Greek tragedy with speculative thinking and political urgency.'
    Olga Taxidou, Textual Practice
  • `[this] lively and engaging new book... engrossing and enriching re-readings of Freud and his texts of reference.'
    Peter Brooks, Times Literary Supplement

1. Freud's Classical Mythologies
2. Never Done, Never to Return: Hysteria and After
3. Fifty Fifty: Female Subjectivity and the Danaids
4. The Other Day: The Interpretation of Daydreams
5. A Freudian Curiosity
6. The Cronus Complex: Psychoanalytic Myths of the Future for Boys and Girls
7. Oedipal Origins
8. Playing God: Reproductive Realism in Euripides' <i>Ion</i>
9. Retranslations, Reproductions, Recapitulations

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After a PhD in Comparative Literature at Yale University, Rachel Bowlby taught at the universities of Sussex, Oxford, and York. In 2004 she moved to University College London where she is Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature. She has written books on the history of shopping (<i>Just Looking, Carried Away</i>), on psychoanalysis and feminism (<i>Still Crazy After All These Years, Shopping with Freud</i>), and on Virginia Woolf (<i>Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf</i>). She has also translated a number of works of contemporary French philosophy, by authors including Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard. In Freudian Mythologies she draws on her background in classical studies.

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Special Features

  • Combines scholarship in diverse areas: psychoanalysis, classical studies, feminism, and philosophy
  • Connects of older writings (Freud, Greek tragedy) with contemporary issues about new reproductive technologies, changing family forms, and sexual identities
  • Close reading of many kinds of text and story