Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lowell Edmunds on Max Ernst

Lowell Edmunds gave a lecture today on the painting Oedipus Rex by Max Ernst. After he made some observations on interpretation, it turned into a group discussion of the painting. The main question seemed to be in what degree Ernst was referring directly to the play by Sophocles or the work of Freud. There were some elements that seem to refer directly to the play, for instance, the arrow through the walnut. There are several things that suggest Hamlet, perhaps via Freud.

There were some interesting observations made. It is a left hand coming through the window, which might recall the name Laius. The device being used by the hand can be identified in other works of Ernst as a tool for piercing the feet of birds. The nut almost certainly refers to a problem, whether the riddle of the sphinx, or the murder investigation of Oedipus in the play. The horns on the the head in the background, again judging from other works of Ernst, refer to kingship. The rope attached to the horns leads into the sky, suggesting some divine control, and one member of the audience pointed out that the rope is not taut, perhaps indicating anticipation of the future, or that there remains an appearance of free will. Edmunds sees in the two heads the characters of Laius and Jocasta. Some wanted to see the horned figure as Oedipus himself. I think, in the framework of Freudian thought, there is no problem with something having two interpretations at the same time. I wondered about the how the bird might relate to augury, which is an important theme in the play. The eye on the bird in the foreground is inverted, which theme of sight is also another related theme in the play, since Tireseus is blind, and Oedipus is figuratively blind in the beginning, and later physically blinds himself, once he has seen. It was a great deal of fun, after spending a few months in a seminar on Oedipus Tyrannos, to add another interpretation to the discussion, and one that requires a good deal of detective work.


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