Death Drive, Wanting to Die, Inorganic Nature, and Ghostly Relations

I want to again stress that my use of the term “death drive” is not that of Freud’s. Nor is it a claim that things “Want to die” or something so foolish. Even Freud’s talk of the death instinct is not a “wanting to die” per se, but the unconscious desire to return to the inorganic processes of nature. Tracing this back to it’s metaphysical root in the early Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, we can see it is rather the tendency for the products of Nature to prove temporary, forming for a short while only to return to the processes which birthed them. It can be seen then not as a wanting or wishing for death, but a return to the Infinite, which for the early Schelling is the infinity of Nature. The problem is that for Freud, Nature is nothing more than inorganic mechanism, and his claims that organic life wishes to return to the inorganic, in the light of his metaphysical forerunners, only grasps half of the truth since for these thinkers, there is no such thing as the inorganic. Rather, the death drive should be seen as an indication not of some unconscious fantasy, but a valid metaphysical claim of finitude.

For me, and for spectral realism, the death drive is not a wish, but a tendency in things to fade out. All things are in the process of fading, of either exerting their presence by expanding their relations and influence, or contracting their power, cutting themselves off, and “dying.” Again, recall that the whole point in doing a hauntology rather than an ontology is the understanding that nothing is ever alive or dead in the usual sense, but everything is always a combination of presence and absence, with no absolute presence or absence being possible. By undergoing such a reduction, the death drive is really just the tendency of things to keep to themselves, to cut themselves off and fade away. It is not a strictly human tendency either, but is visible in the fact that things alter their relations, that non-human entities are defined by their shifting relations. The rocks and trees outside are not simply disembodied entities existing outside of space and time, but are what they are in large part due to their relations with other ghostly entities. When these change, that relation, although it no longer exists, has still exerted itself on the identity of the entity, affecting it in some way. All entities have a history, a history that is at least in some way defined by by its relations, past, present, and future. This means that while an entity is not “nothing more than its relations” (Whitehead, Latour), but a thing is defined in some way by its drive to existence, which is exerted on all of its relations some of which are cut off completely, while others leave a relational residue, a memory, a remainder.

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3 responses to “Death Drive, Wanting to Die, Inorganic Nature, and Ghostly Relations

  1. stuart

    fantastic entry and great blog, keep up the good work!!!!!

  2. kvond

    CL: “For me, and for spectral realism, the death drive is not a wish, but a tendency in things to fade out. All things are in the process of fading, of either exerting their presence by expanding their relations and influence, or contracting their power, cutting themselves off, and “dying.” ”

    Kvond: There is always a rhetorical dimension in philosophy, poetic vector…so questions are not only of concept, but also of word. So your use of “death drive” is one which should be open to critcism on both fronts, what you conceptually mean by it and what you are trying to invoke. The first problem is that by taking a term that already has a rather firmly established meaning from Freud and those that followed, one really risks confusion if you are not steadily at work clarifying yourself (like you are doing in this post). It would be assumed that it IS Freud that you are thinking about. It’s like using the term “natural selection” but saying that it is not Darwin that you have in mind.

    But secondly, and I really like your use of the idea of “fading away” as a tendency, is that what you seem to invoke with your use doesn’t really fit with the term. Fading-away-drive has something oxymoronic about it. Is it not only in the human mind, in memory (or sometimes in perception) that things “fade away”? Fading seems to be a rather human, anthropomorphic projection? Is a sun setting really “fading away” in any way more than a phenonomenological or memory sense? I’m not saying this in a critical spirit because I do like your descriptions, it is just that I naturally question whether these kinds of events/relations should be, or could be taken as universal foundations for metaphysics. Is a river that dries up in the summer to its bed following a “death drive” or a “fading-away-drive”?

    But more than this. When my car’s alternator fails, or its tire gets a flat, is the car pursuing a death drive?

    Or, when there is a error in DNA/RNA replication, is this a “death drive” event, or a life drive process of mutation and adaptation?

    Just some thoughts on your always interesting posts.

  3. Pingback: Zizek on Death Drive « Complete Lies.

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