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The term "counter-Oedipus" generally designates the complete set of parental displays of the father's or mother's own oedipal conflict. Thus in these displays we can expect to find themes of incest and murder.

In numerous passages Freud discussed how parents replay their infantile Oedipus complex in the present, yet he never used the term "counter-Oedipus" to refer to these displays.

In 1979 Francis Pasche, returning to themes in Freud's article "The Acquisition and Control of Fire" (1932a), analyzed the relationship of Zeus, Prometheus, and humankind in terms of a positive counter-Oedipus and a negative counter-Oedipus: Zeus, the "father of the gods," subdued and mistreated Prometheus even though he belonged to a later generation. Prometheus, who revolted against Zeus, played a paternal role in relation to humankind.

In this perspective, the father is ambivalent toward the son when he is confronted with homosexual desires (as illustrated by Alain Fine's myth of Laius the pedophile [1993]) and the desire to murder (Laius tried to kill Oedipus twice, once by exposure on Cithaeron and then again later when he met him at the crossroads). Jacques Bril (1989) revealed the theme of murder of the son in Christ's passion. In fathers' relationships with daughters, we frequently encounter actual incest and tyrannical jealousy, as when fathers prohibit their daughters from having any sexual life.

Although we find the same fundamental themes of incest and murder in the counter-Oedipus of the mother, they are envisioned differently. In the mother's relationship with a daughter, primary homosexuality, long-term alienating bonds, and mother-daughter rivalry become important. In the mother's relationship with a son, the incestuous dimension of the child's penis comes to the fore. Additionally, whether the child be a boy or a girl, murder fantasies cause the mother to be anxious during pregnancy.

The notion of the counter-Oedipus thus brings together an extremely varied set of clinical facts and theoretical elements. Though it is a convenient term current in France, it still awaits full theoretical development. A task for the future is to relate the counter-Oedipus to transgenerational phenomena.

Roger Perron

See also: Adoption; Complex; Devereux, Georges (born György Dobo); Relaxation principle and neo-catharsis.


Bril, Jacques. (1989). L 'affaire Hildebrand, ou le meurtre du fils. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Fine, Alain. (1993). Laios pédophile et infanticide. Revue française de psychanalyse, 57 (2), 515-524.

Freud, Sigmund. (1932a). The acquisition and control of fire. SE, 22: 183-193.

Pasche, François. (1979). Le "Prométhée" d'Eschyle, ou les Avatars du contre-œdipe paternal. Revue française de psychanalyse, 43 (3), 401-407.2