Oedipus Unbound

Selected Writings on Rivalry and Desire

by René Girard


Edited and with an introduction

by Mark R. Anspach


Stanford University Press


Available from: Powell's IndieBound Amazon


"It is no longer possible to interpret the Oedipus myth without taking Girard's scapegoat theory into account."

—Alain Moreau, L'Antiquité Classique


Did Oedipus really kill his father and marry his mother? Or is he nothing but a scapegoat for a crisis afflicting Thebes? For René Girard, the mythic accusations of patricide and incest are symptomatic of a plague-stricken community's hunt for a culprit to punish. Unbinding the Oedipal triangle from its Freudian moorings, Girard succeeds in making us see an age-old myth in a wholly new light.


The hard-to-find writings assembled here include three major early essays, never before available in English, that afford a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how Girard first developed his scapegoat theory. "One is surprised, refreshed, satisfied with a sense of fresh perspectives," reports Andrew Bartlett in the COV&R Bulletin. "I have always felt there were puzzling gulfs between Deceit, Desire, and the Novel and Violence and the Sacred... It was as if Girard had leaped from one cliff of insight over a great canyon to a new cliff... How did he get there? Well—here in Oedipus Unbound, one might see him in the act of bridging some of those gulfs."


Tracing the unexpected twists and turns in his thought, Mark Anspach presents new evidence for Girard's reading of Oedipus from classical studies, literature, anthropology, and the life of Freud himself. "The introductory essay by Mark Anspach is a delight," writes Bartlett. It is "informative and scholarly, lucid, lively and creative, at times comical, and full of provocative hypotheses about the reasons for Freud’s tenacious insistence on 'the primacy of concealed sexual impulses' in human desire—hypotheses which connect Freud's personal family history to his intellectual decisions and which link those decisions in turn to a certain sad perpetuation and reversal of the terrible historical rivalry between Christians and Jews."


For more on René Girard's revolutionary approach to Oedipus in Freud, Sophocles, and Greek mythology, read this illuminating article by Richard Cocks: "Oedipus Rex" in René Girard’s "Violence and the Sacred"


And for an application of the ideas in Oedipus Unbound to the COVID-19 pandemic, read Geoff Shullenberger's perceptive article Plagues and sacrifice. "In ancient societies as in our own," Shullenberger writes, "a plague is hard to extricate from its social, cultural, and economic fallout. Resolving these broader ills becomes just as important as curing the disease."