"Zero Degrees is the reference point where everything begins…and everything ends"
- Akram Khan
The Oedipus complex is a theory that originates from the Greek myth of Oedipus, in which Oedipus fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thereby bring disaster on his city and family. Therefore, Sigmund Freud describes the Oedipus complex as a stage in a child's development in which the child experiences an erotic attachment to one parent and hostility toward the other. The tension created in this emotional triangle is according to both Freud and Lacan, a key element in the psychological development of the individual; Freud traces virtually all mental disorders to some problem with the transition through the Oedipal stage. The drama of the Oedipal complex is usually linked to the concept of "castration anxiety" for the male which is when a boy becomes afraid of his father castrating him due to a sexual interest in the mother. "Penis envy" for the female is when the girl perceives herself as lacking the penis and her attraction for her father is exaggerated by her desire to possess it. These responses for both male and female children make up the castration complex, an unconscious anxiety arising during psychosexual development.
The Oedipus complex is just as important for Lacan as it is for Freud, if not more so. The difference is that Lacan maps his ideas with humans acquiring the capacity to perceive and learn language, which he sees as comparable with Freud. The process of moving through the Oedipus complex is recognizing that we cannot sleep with or even fully "have" our mother and it’s our way of recognizing the need to obey social strictures and restraints. In this linguistic rather than biological system, the "phallus" (which must always be understood not to mean "penis") highlights what the subject loses through their entrance into language and speech and all the power associated with what Lacan terms the "symbolic father" and the "Name-of-the-Father". Like the phallus' relation to the penis, the "Name-of-the-Father" is much more than any actual father; in fact, it is ultimately more comparable to those social structures that control our lives and that interdict many of our actions including law, religion, medicine and education. After one passes through the Oedipus complex, the position of the phallus a higher position within that differential system, can be assumed by most anyone (teachers, leaders, even the mother) and, so, to repeat, is not synonymous with either the biological father or the biological penis.
Nonetheless, the anatomical differences between boys and girls do lead to a different direction for men and women in Lacan's system. Men achieve access to the privileges of the phallus, according to Lacan, by denying their last link to the real of their actual penis. For this reason, the castration complex continues to function as a central aspect of the boy's psychosexual development for Lacan. In accepting the dictates of the Name-of-the-Father, who is associated with the symbolic phallus, the male subject denies his sexual needs and, forever after, understands his relation to others in terms of his position within a larger system of rules, gender differences, and desire. Since women do not experience the castration complex in the same way, Lacan argues that women are not socialized in the same way, that they remain more closely tied to what Lacan terms "jouissance’ meaning a sexual pleasure and enjoyment focusing upon the orgasm. Women are thus are lacking (never accessing the phallus as fully). Regardless, what defines the position of both the man and the women in this theory is above all the feelings of lack, even if that lack is articulated differently for men and women.
Within Zero Degrees, choreographed by Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, mirror image is cleverly used within his choreography. Seen in the video above, Khan and Labri perform a sequence of mirrored movement that could suggest the influence the dancers have upon one another. This could link with the Oedipus complex and the idea that the intricate and closeness of the dancers could represent the relationship of a child with their parent.
Another significant point is towards the end of Zero Degrees when Labri stands between the two mannequins. This could further suggest the emotions the dancer feels as he is almost torn between the two mannequins. This is similar to the Oedipus Complex in the ways in which a child can hold a strong desire towards one parent but hold a deep respect for the other.