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Monday, October 21, 2019


In defence of oedipus


TSI | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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Middle school: A mid-summer day. The exciting discovery of a magazine lying carelessly on top of a stack secreted away in a friend’s elder brother’s room. The magazine, under the unashamedly flimsy veneer of being a lifestyle magazine, was, in those days (when you could put the net in the surf but not surf the net), the first introduction to the ways of the birds and the bees for many oat-popping young Indians. Leafing through this brave new world, in mock horror, masking wide eyed wonder, I remember reading the word I-N-C-E-S-T for the first time. Years later, in college, as a student of literature, that terrible word encroached upon the collective sensibilities of the class as the works of D.H. Lawrence, Sophocles and that 16-year-old who forgot to grow up (and thank God for people like him!) – Sigmund Freud – came up for discussion. It was a difficult subject to discuss, and not just with teachers, because unlike other subjects pertaining to sexuality, this was taboo even amongst friends. Once, misled by unfounded rumours that I wasn’t all that bad with literary interpretation, a junior did seek my opinion on the subject. I remember saying that while I ‘understood’ why Gertrude and her sons were tied together by a cord more Oedipal than umbilical, it obviously wasn’t right. Not for reasons of morality, but biology. Nature has created safeguards against inbreeding in both the animal and the plant world, because such alliances compound genetic weaknesses and defects. Young males and young seeds are both driven away by the contrivances of nature from family groups across the food chain. Human cultures too mirror this taboo by drawing up various complicated equations of endogamy and exogamy to avoid ‘incestuous’ alliances.

Although Freud has argued that incestuous love is one of the prime human motivators and we merely transpose our incestuous lust by seeking a mother/father figure in our partners, a lesser known contemporary of his – Finnish anthropologist, philosopher and sociologist Edvard Westermarck – propounded the Westermarck effect, that claimed that children raised together, especially till the critical age of 3-4 years, irrespective of whether they are related or not, build a psychological resistance to sexual intimacy between them. Look around you, and chances are that you’ll see the world tipping the balance in favour of the Finn. Who knows, maybe even the ‘seven year itch’ is but a latent manifestation of the same phenomenon. Incest, of course, is the new (out?) rage, because a German citizen, Patrick Stubing and his sister, Susan Karlowski (who also happens to be his lover and the mother of his four children) are fervently lobbying to have Germany’s incest laws repealed, because the brother-sister couple wants to live together as man and wife. Stubing is not alone, for an article in The Guardian once talked about a number of individuals who felt an intense sexual attraction for a sibling, a parent or an offspring. Interestingly enough, just like Stubing, these individuals had no early contact with the object of their affection, because one or the other had been given up for adoption during that critical period. Barbara Gonyo, one of the individuals interviewed, admitted to having lusted for her 26-year-old son, who she had given up for adoption while he was a baby. It was while searching for the root of this strong and overpowering emotion that swept her away when she was reunited with her son and she stumbled upon the idea of Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA). GSA is a little known, but extremely common phenomenon, wherein blood relatives who did not see each or the other grow up, but met as adults, are drawn toward each other sexually. Humans are subconsciously attracted to physical/mental images similar to their own and ergo, a late reunion with a blood relative is likely to trigger an attraction due to the same principle. Nowadays, adoption agencies warn individuals about GSA, when approached by those who seek to locate their blood relatives.

There is nothing ‘icky’ about Stubing´s passion for his sister. The two are consenting adults, who fell in love as adults and it is unfair to brand them with the same mark that society reserves for depraved men like Virendra Kumar Mahoba, a Sub Divisional Magistrate, who is now on the run for repeatedly raping his daughter. While I maintain that civil society does not have the right to impose its sanctions on consenting adults and the nature of their relationship, irrespective of gender or bloodline, I also believe that a couple does not have the right to ‘deliberately’ burden their own children and society with congenital defects that could ruin the child’s life and prevent the child from contributing toward society. Incidentally, two of Stubing’s children through his sister suffer from congenital defects. Incest, between consenting adults, is really none of our business, but unborn children and society should definitely not be asked to pay the price for such a union. The same argument holds true for every couple that runs a greater than average risk of conceiving children with disabilities, irrespective of whether it is so because of illnesses – congenital or acquired, advancing years or the nature of the relationship. The globe is coming apart at the seams, and the ethical option for an increasing number of couples (especially such ‘special couples’), would be to adopt unloved children. In the words of a fisherman’s song, ‘Love, like a river shall always run its course; many it’ll nourish, and a few, it is said, might perish . . .”
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017