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Death drive

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French: pulsion de mort
German: Todestrieb

Sigmund Freud

Freud introduced the concept of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920).

Here he established a fundamental opposition between life drives (eros), conceived of as a tendency towards cohesion and unity, and the death drives, which operate in the opposite direction, undoing connections and destroying things.

The concept of the death drive was one of the most controversial concepts introduced by Freud, and many of his disciples rejected it, but Freud continued to reaffirm the concept for the rest of his life.

Jacques Lacan

Psychoanalysis

Lacan follows Freud in reaffirming the concept of the death drive as central to psychoanalysis:

"To ignore the death instinct in his [Freud's] doctrine is to misunderstand that doctrine entirely."[1]

Nostalgia

In Lacan's first remarks on the death drive, in 1938, he describes it as a nostalgia for a lost harmony, a desire to return to the preoedipal fusion with the mother's breast, the loss of which is marked on the psyche in the weaning complex.[2]

Narcissism

In 1946 he links the death drive to the suicidal tendency of narcissism.[3].

By linking the death drive with the preoedipal phase and with narcissism, these early remarks would place the death drive in what Lacan later comes to call the imaginary order.

Symbolic Order

However, when Lacan begins to develop his concept of the three orders of imaginary, symbolic and real, in the 1950s, he does not situate the death drive in the imaginary but in the symbolic.

Repetition

In the seminar of 1954-5, for example, he argues that the death drive is simply the fundamental tendency of the symbolic order to produce repetition:

"The death instinct is only the mask of the symbolic order."[4]

Biological Instincts

This shift also marks a difference with Freud, for whom the death drive was closely bound up with biology, representing the fundamental tendency of every living thing to return to an inorganic state.

By situating the death drive firmly in the symbolic, Lacan articulates it with culture rather than nature; he states that the death drive "is not a question of biology,"[5], and must be distinguished from the biological instinct to return to the inanimate.[6]

Sexual Drives

Another difference between Lacan's concept of the death drive and Freud's emerges in 1964.

Freud opposed the death drive to the sexual drives, but now Lacan argues that the death drive is not a separate drive, but is in fact an aspect of every drive.

"The distinction between the life drive and the death drive is - true in as much as it manifests two aspects of the drive."[7]

Hence Lacan writes that "every drive is virtually a death drive" because:

  1. every drive pursues its own extinction,
  2. every drive involves the subject in repetition, and
  3. every drive is an attempt to go beyond the pleasure principle, to the realm of excess jouissance where enjoyment is experienced as suffering.[8]

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 301
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Les complexes familiaux dans la formation de l'individu. Essai d'analyse d'une fonction en psychologie, Paris: Navarin, 1984 [1938]. p. 35
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 186
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 326
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 102
  6. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 211-12
  7. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 257
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 844