Wednesday, January 03, 2007

WotWH Chapter 2 - Eldredge and Oedipus

I think most people know about Freud's use of the story Oedipus Rex, or at least some version of it. Here's one version. The child desires the mother; the father steps in and says "no." This "no" is the creation of the child's superego - their introduction into the social. Through the father's "no", aka the "law", the child takes up a position in the human world.

This narrative underlies ch. 2, which is called "True Son of a True Father" though it is never explicitly referred to. Eldredge begins with two charming little anecdotes (one unfortunately plucked from the wretched movie Kingdom of Heaven) that attempt to illustrate how a lack of fatherly approval in one's life is the basic source of a male's problems.

Yes, a male's problems. To hit on this again, Eldredge is working with the worst kind of gender essentialism; he's a step away from accusing women of penis envy. I could quickly kill this horse and continue to flog it, so I'll just start pretending it isn't there unless I need to comment upon it.

Anyways. the first basic point of the chapter is made on page 25. Eldredge recounts Jesus' questions about whether or not a father would give a child a stone when asked for bread. This question, Eldredge says, speaks "to our deepest doubts about the universe."

So Eldredge is placing a great deal of existential importance on the Oedipal story. Our father (Earthly or heavenly, father or Father) is apparently responsible for giving us our place in the universe. The law of the F/father gives us our structural position.

As Eldredge has it, the journey of Christianity only begins with forgiveness; the journey is about becoming a son. It is about taking up a particular position; if one stops with forgiveness, he "has not come into sonship." (30)

This new position involves a new family. So it is not just a new position in an old structure, but rather a new structure altogether. And this is what the new structure consists in: jettisoning the (Earthly) law of the (Earthly) father in favour of the (Heavenly) Law of the (Heavenly) Father. One Oedipal process superceding another.

The question is, is this alledged Heavenly Oedipal process any different from the Earthly one? The basic problem of all structures is their zero point, the ordering position that must be both within the structure and outside of it. The centre is, in fact, de-centred.

Eldredge says our "deepest questions" revolve around our Oedipal position. Whatever importance one places upon these questions, can they be satisfied by changing "Families"? Can any pre-existing structure satisfy our need to chase after an external image? I'd argue they can't. Whatever we do must be founded in creativity. Because all structures decentre themselves, these pre-set patterns of thinking and behaving will always give way to new and more personalized structures.

What Eldredge offers is exactly what Nietzsche says all religion offers; "if you do X, you will be happy." The problem is that X is a vapour, always fading away. The path of manhood, the "Way of the Wild Heart," will never be anything more than the "map" Eldredge admits it to be. What is need isn't a map; what one needs is a machete to cut new trails with.


Jamie A. Grant said...

Is this textual criticism, philosophy or psychiatry? The poor guy's been ripped to shreds and we're only two chapters in.

dan said...

Umm, well, the poor guy actually probably deserves to have his books ripped to shreds.

The thing that puzzles me is why a fellow like Mike (who I, admittedly, only know through his blog) would even bother reading Eldredge's books. Mike?

Jason Hatherly said...

My guess is that he encountered the guy at sometime in his religious past.

Mike said...

Ha! Why am I reading this book? I figured if I had something nice and light to comment on, I'd have more motivation to actually write blog posts. Silly me, huh? Still, I'm going to try and work my way through this entire book.

And no, Nihilo, I first read Eldredge in my post-Christian era.