Nellie Curtin – Irish Myth – Culture and Psychic Structure

The Letter No57 (Autumn 2014) pages 55-62

The relationship of myth and psychoanalysis is present in Freud’s writing from the beginning. He uses myth to help explain his theories of infantile sexuality and the interpretation of dreams. His references are to stories from Greek literature, as for instance the myths of Oedipus and Narcissus. This paper draws on an Irish myth which deals with a culture in transition as well as the structuring of a human subject. Using this myth, the paper attempts to identify remnants of prehistory which are likely to remain in the unconscious and how these are woven into analytic experience.

Keywords: primal scene, Irish myth, phylogenesis versus ontogenesis, products of construction,  refusal, oral subject

In the closing paragraph of the Wolfman analysis, Freud refers to two problems which he says deserve special emphasis. They are, what he calls, ‘the phylogenetically inherited schemata’ and a ‘primitive kind of mental activity’ which he compares to the ‘the instinctive knowledge of animals.’  He gives a warning also: ‘I consider that they are only admissible when psychoanalysis strictly observes the correct order of precedence, and after forcing its way through the strata of what has been acquired by the individual, comes at last upon traces of what has been inherited.’ While paying heed to his counsel about the primacy of the individual’s experience in psychoanalysis, it seems worthwhile to reflect on these psychological factors which he considers significant.

Freud wrote Totem and Taboo in 1913 while he was still treating the Wolf-man. He was on the one hand elaborating the complex theory of infantile sexuality based on this analysis and at the same uncovering lessons from social anthropology. In his study of anthropology he noted the comparison between obsessional neurotic symptoms with those of collective observances of a tribe. …

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