I see, I see.
Perceptions are all important in Western culture. “I perceive” means “I nailed you down”, “I gottcha!”
In the case of the Oedipus complex, the protagonist does not wish to see the nature of his own actions, so he blinds himself. The key to this self-blinding is that he doesn’t want objective vision. But note the redundancy in the expression — vision, itself, is assumed to be objective. Had looking directly with the eye not had the meaning of objective vision in the first place, Oedipus would not have needed to blind himself. He might have asked himself whether his blind instincts were not actually unreasonable. Objectivity changes everything,if it is assumed that one has achieved something ultimate, which is to say the fundamental clear vision one had been seeking, without any emotional contamination.
Contamination implies being blinded and willing not to see, or being darkened by sinfulness, or lacking the ability to navigate on one’s own behalf. To purposefully blind oneself, as Oedipus did, is to will oneself not to see. Others, having vision, may see one’s wild flailings, but being trapped within one’s own head means one doesn’t see oneself at all. Meanwhile, others flash their eyes and perceive. This equation should not be underestimated: they have eyes and therefore they perceive. One flashes open the eyes and that comprises perception.
“I perceive you better BECAUSE you can’t perceive yourself.” Physiologically this is true. That physiology is taken for philosophy is an error. Socrates’ pupil perceives him well enough and yet Socrates perceives him better.
Oedipus, by contrast is naive and literal. His goal is to unsee that which he had regretted seeing, as if by not facing the objective world objectively his misdeeds could be easily undone.
The original story is Greek, but an opposition between emotion and reason — or, in this case, more subtly, between instinct and reason — is Judeo-Christian. Christian and Judaic orthodoxy presume a destructive force exists in the emotions or the instincts. The original Greek story probably had more to do with a must softer, cautionary tale about assuming one was able to control everything. In the Greek sense, the impulsive expression of a desire to unsee reality came from a sudden recognition that fate did not necessarily favor you, just because you happened to be you. But that tale is soft — a cautionary warning against the narcissism inherent in believing in the benevolence of fate.
To take the question of the possibility of seeing objectively further, perhaps the impulsive stabbing of his own eyes was Oedipus’ recognition that such objectivity had been deceptive. He had put too much trust in the transparency of vision. Then he paid the price, by having a revolting liaison with his mother. When he realized his mistake, which had come about by putting too much trust in his perceptual powers, he impulsively blinded himself, thus perpetuating his error via continuing to equate his physiological capacity to see with his eyes with objective knowledge.
The joke that fate had played on him was that objective knowledge cannot be obtained through simply looking, any more than it could be denied by simply ceasing to look. You’ve been thinking about the issue in the wrong way, thus you are Oedipus blinded — or potentially blinded, as your current self-assurety will make you wish you had been blinded, in the future.
Is there a way out of this mess? People who adhere to Freud’s views, due to their cultural upbringing, keep insisting that one must accept an opposition between reason and emotion/instinct, since one can be lead astray by instinct but not by a genuinely transcendent wisdom — as from a authorities or a God. “God” represents the eye, the perfection, objectivity and factual wisdom.
But with one logical omission — Oedipus is still blinded. He has renounced seeing for himself. Having made a mortal error, he will accept only the views of the authorities and their definitive pronouncements about what is true.
In the end, the Freudian version of Oedipus is worse off than when he had started, especially if the authorities he hopes to lean upon henceforth (having made mistakes himself) turn out not to be infallible, as is the case for every human. Not seeing at all, they rely on charity — the ability of others to do their seeing for them. Despite what they think, this is not morality or reformation. Those who can continue to see are like Oedipus who hasn’t yet blinded his own vision. They’re taken in, too, by all sorts of illusions and imaginary visions. Indeed, they project a self-constructed view of reality from out of their experiences and fantasies about reality. They see, but they do not see. They merely proclaim their instinctive drives as constituting objectivity. In other words, they see only what they want to see.
To have unreformed instincts always amounts to the same thing. Reality is whatever one wants it to be.
So how does one drive a wedge between instinct and reason, so that one might see them for the first time as separate from each other?
I have suggested shamanic doubling: a degree of dissociation from oneself that would allow you to see yourself from a certain distance. Objective vision needs to be sharpened, but instincts are unruly and will lead you into disaster unless they are also trained. To wilfully blind one’s vision for a period — that is, to choose not to see things as they have been misrepresented, by others claiming objective vision — can be a means to develop instinct. If one simply has to rely on instinct rather than on reason, one’s instincts will become more acute and less likely to mislead one. One may learn from experience, for instance, not to be impulsive or to equate outsiders with objectivity.
Real, inner wisdom can be learned this way.