Slavoj Žižek: Why Todestrieb is a Philosophical Concept

Public lecture by Slavoj Žižek within the framework of the ICI’s core project “Tension/Spannung” 6 Mär '09

Sigmund Freud introduces his notorious concept of the “Todestrieb”, the “death drive” in his famous essay “Jenseits des Lustprinzips” (“Beyond the Pleasure Principle”) of 1920. This text has intrigued and puzzled many readers as it relates the death drive to both the so-called “Nirvana principle” aiming at a state without tension and the repetition compulsion, the almost mechanical kernel of the drive itself. If Freud’s death drive stands here philosophically between negation (Schopenhauer) and affirmation (Nietzsche) of the will, Slavoj Žižek insists that we should not confuse the death drive with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension. As his Parallax View states, the death drive is, on the contrary, “the very opposite of dying – a name for the 'undead' eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain.” In Žižek’s Lacanian reading, the (death) drive represents a 'diabolic' dimension of human beings in opposition to a desire for the lost object that would overcome all differences and tensions. Its articulation as a philosophical concept is certain to lead us also to a deeper understanding of the concept of tension.

Reading Žižek – Where to Start?

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Bartleby, the Scrivener: “I would prefer not to.
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