Death drive

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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.


Pulsion de mort

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) Freud established a fundamental opposited between life and 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 fusuion with rotism, the death drive would elude our perception, since in itself it is silent.[1]


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

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.'[2]

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.

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


However when Lacan begins to develop his concept of the three orders, in the 1950s, he does not situate the death drive in the imaginary but in the symbolic. He argues that th 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."[3]

This shift also marks a difference with Freud, for whom the death drive was closely bound up with biiology, 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 cultural rather than nature; he states that the death drive "is not a question of biology," and must be distinguished from the biological instinct to return to the inanimate.[4]


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.

Hence Lacan writes that "every drive is virutally a death drive" because every drive pursures its own extinction, involves the subject in repetition, and constitutes an attempt to go beyond the pleasure principle, to the realm of excss jouissance where enjoyment is experienced as suffering.

  1. Freud 1930a: Se XXI, 120
  2. e 310
  3. s2 326
  4. E 102; s7 211-12