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Death drive

3,684 bytes added, 01:55, 26 April 2006
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death drive (pulsion de mort) Although intimations of the concept of
 
the death drive (Todestrieb) can be found early on in Freud's work, it was only
 
in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g) that the concept was fully articu-
 
lated. In this work Freud 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. However, the life drives and the death drives are never
 
found in a pure state, but always mixed/fused together in differing proportions.
 
Indeed, Freud argued that were it not for this fusion with erotism, the death
 
drive would elude our perception, since in itself it is silent (Freud, 193÷a
 
 
 
The concept of the death drive was one of the most controversial concepts
 
introduced by Freud, and many of his disciples rejected it (regarding it as mere
 
poetry or as an unjustifiable incursion into metaphysics), but Freud continued
 
to reaffirm the concept for the rest of his life. Of the non-Lacanian schools of
 
psychoanalytic theory, only Kleinian psychoanalysis takes the concept
 
seriously.
 
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' (E, 301).
 
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 (Lacan, 1938: 35). In 1946 he links the death drive to the suicidal
 
tendency of narcissism (Ec, 186). By linking the death drive with the pre-
 
oedipal phase and with narcissism, these early remarks would place the death
 
drive in what Lacan later comes to call the imaginary 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. 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' (S2, 326). 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
 
bjology' (E, 102), and must be distinguished from the biological instinct to
 
return to the inanimate (S7, 211-12).
 
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' (gl 20). Hence
 
Lacan writes that 'every drive is virtually a death drive' (Ec, 844); because (i)
 
every drive pursues its own extinction, (ii) every drive involves the subject in
 
repetition, and (iii) every drive is an attempt to go beyond the pleasure
 
principle, to the realm of exceSS JOUISSANCE where enjoyment is experienced
 
as suffering.
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