Zizek on Death Drive

As I have said numerous times before, I disagree with what Zizek calls the “naive” reading of Freud’s death drive. I am not proposing some radical re-reading of Freud, rather, I agree with the Lacano-Zizekian reading which has existed for some time and is quite nicely summed up in the following quote:

“On the philosophico-ontological level, this is what Lacan is aiming at when he emphasizes the difference between the Freudian death drive and the so-called “nirvana principle” according to which every life system tends toward the lowest level of tension, ultimately toward death: “nothingness” (the void, being deprived of all substance) and the lowest level of energy paradoxically no longer coincide, that is, it is “cheaper” (it costs the system less energy) to persist in “something” than to dwell in “nothing,” at the lowest level of tension, or in the void, the dissolution of all order. It is this distance that sustains the death drive: far from being the same as the nirvana principle (the striving toward the dissolution of all life tension, the longing for the return to original nothingness), the death drive is the tension which persists and insists beyond and against the nirvana principle. In other words, far from being opposed to the pleasure principle, the nirvana principle is its highest and most radical expression. In this precise sense, the death drive stands for its exact opposite, for the dimension of the “undead,” of a spectral life which insists beyond (biological) death.” (The Puppet and the Dwarf, 93)

As I have two projects this summer that are essentially examinations of the Lacano-Zizekian death drive (one on popular culture, and one in terms of vitalism), this is probably not the last I will be speaking of this over the next couple of moths.

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15 responses to “Zizek on Death Drive

  1. Tariq Goddard

    I’m very interested in the project you describe in this post, let me know whether you’d like to work it into a book for the zer0 series
    Tariq Goddard

  2. noen

    Sarah Palin is undead. Seriously, download her resignation speech or review her past speeches. They are gibberish. No conscious entity wrote those. Look at her performances from the past, there is an emptyness. All that is left of Sarah Palin the imprint of a once living being that is now dead.

    BTW, found your site by way of mariborchan.’s blog (mariborchan.wordpress.com).

  3. I very much appreciate what you present here about this aspect of the death drive called the nirvana principle. I’ve thought a lot about death-in-life, and suffered a few, many more so since I began meditating a few years ago. I always feel that living in the moment is a kind death to the illusion-driven life of a being who is wrapped up in the endless creation of self-gratifying fantasies, which work to concentrate importance on the personal identity and tear down any threatening encroachment, no matter how beautiful.

    I sense in the nirvana principle the idea of a brave person’s relief in letting go of distorted views that support all the armoring the insecure identity demands, and relinquishment of the contorted views required to obscure the treacheries of the self-interested path from deeper knowing. Those things about which Pink speaks when she sings “I’m a hazard to myself…don’t let me get me.”

    Another point, I see you list Bohme in your tags, I’m interested in how this nirvana principle interweaves with his ideas of meekness. There is also at times a certain meekness in the current trend away from anthropocentric views, but I’m not sure anyone would be too happy to be associated with the term “meek.”

    Thanks again for the post, as you can see it got me thinking.

  4. kvond

    CL (Z): “In other words, far from being opposed to the pleasure principle, the nirvana principle is its highest and most radical expression”

    Kvond: And is there no pleasure (or jouissance) in the ghost?

    There is a wonderful scene in the Iliad where Patroklus’ ghost is begging Achilles to bury his body so that he can enter into the land of the dead. If we grant a parallel, Patroklus’s ghost has the Nirvana Principle driving him to the land of the dead, but is confined by the Death Drive, would that be fair?

  5. Pingback: Death, Bodies, Last « Frames /sing

  6. “There is a wonderful scene in the Iliad where Patroklus’ ghost is begging Achilles to bury his body so that he can enter into the land of the dead. If we grant a parallel, Patroklus’s ghost has the Nirvana Principle driving him to the land of the dead, but is confined by the Death Drive, would that be fair?”

    I think so, yes.

  7. kvond

    Then I would say that the “ghost” Patroklus who is sealed off from the land of the dead is a product of the persistence of the effects of Patroklus upon Achilles’s own body, their echo, so to speak. So to imagine that there is a ontological “Death Drive” that keeps this persistance from finding its home (the now dead body of Patroklus, or an imagined “land of the dead”), is a product of the illusion, or the misunderstanding, that it does not already have a home (in the body/mind of Achilles). It is not cut off.

  8. But Kevin it all depends on what you mean by wholeness. Things lack wholeness because of the very existence of time, because things are always changing. Things are “cut off” in the sense that they lack what I think constitutes wholeness, which would be something like total relationality. In your example. Patroklus does continue to exist in some way in Achilles, but there are countless relations and modes of existence that are now impossible for the Patroklus ghost, which isn’t to say that he is now “more lacking,” but simple that he can never be whole because it is impossible for all of the relations across history to ever be exhausted in a present (which would be something like the neo-Platonic One, whereby all individuality is dissolved in one simle relation [the One to itself]).

  9. kvond

    [Sorry Michael, delete my last entry]

    Well, as I always do, I am amiss when considering just what your objection to Spinoza is, because he takes a very distinct position upon this lacking-of-wholeness. Indeed for Spinoza there is no lacking of relationality at all. In fact, any determinant existence is necessarily connected to and related to all other determinant existences.

    In this way, “there are countless relations and modes of existence that are now impossible for the Patroklus ghost” does not really count at all against the fullness of Patroklus’s existence. Indeed, Spinoza compares the blindness of a man to the inability of a stone to see. Neither is deprived of anything, since each is determined to be sightless.

    So, when you say “he can never be whole because it is impossible for all of the relations across history to ever be exhausted in a present” this is precisely the problem of thinking of things temporally instead of sub specie aeternitatis. It is not the purpose of the present to exhaust eternity, but rather to express wholeness in a specific, determined way, as a mode of its immanence.

    The “degrees of Being” that any one aspect have are the very things that qualify its perfection. Which is to say, I myself (or Patroklus “dead”), may have a certain “degree of Being” but because nothingness has no ontological reality, and because Substance expresses itself Fully, whatever apparent lack or negation that is imagined to exist in me is only a consequence of not taking a wide enough view, it is a result of descriminately drawing a boundary where there is none to be drawn, what Spinoza calls an imaginary relation.

    Only the insistance on an Idealism (which Spinoza firmly forecloses) can re-insert the “ghost” so to speak. Now of course one can be an Idealist all one wants to, and not a Spinozist, but I would have to understand just what the advantage or argument one has, aside from just wanting to believe in ghosts, so to speak.

    Spinoza actually has an interesting passage in a letter that is about ghosts, when Peter Balling writes to him about the auditory premonition he had of his son’s death. He denies this kind of pre-ghost (and certainly post-ghosts), by virtue of the very nature of the essences of things, and the determination of Substance itself. Spinoza’s arguments are very much in the theme of the Neo-Platonic one, wherein he argues that the modes are that by which the One “exists-and-acts”.

  10. kvond

    Or, think about it this way…

    Stuart Kauffman, theorizer of self-organization, describes entropy from a statistical mechanics perspective, as simply the tendency of distribution to move through all of the possibilities of a “phase space”. In this way, a gas disperses because simply all of the possibility spaces are being moved through.

    Would it make sense to say that just because a particular distribution of gas molecules is not in every single “phase space” possibility, it is not “whole” or it lacks something?

    Instead, from a more Spinozist perspective, one might analogize that the “phrase space” it expressing itself through the molecular distribution, which enters one position and then another. The wholeness concerns the entire relationship, or expression.

  11. “Spinoza actually has an interesting passage in a letter that is about ghosts, when Peter Balling writes to him about the auditory premonition he had of his son’s death. He denies this kind of pre-ghost (and certainly post-ghosts), by virtue of the very nature of the essences of things, and the determination of Substance itself.”

    I reluctantly forclose that I had an auditory premonition of the death of a family member once. Would Spinoza deny my experience? Help. I’ve also seen ghosts too, especially those of animals. So maybe I am now written off (if I weren’t already.)

    Anyway, following closely along Nagarjuna’s coat tails, I imagine both Kevin and Micheal are correct (and incorrect, also both neither incorrect or correct, and both correct and incorrect). Wholeness is in evidence at all times, we just can’t see it, and also, part of the wholeness is brokeness. Was it Hafiz or Rumi who described us as both broken and whole at once?

  12. kvond

    Amarilla: “I reluctantly forclose that I had an auditory premonition of the death of a family member once. Would Spinoza deny my experience? Help. I’ve also seen ghosts too, especially those of animals. So maybe I am now written off (if I weren’t already.)”

    Kvond: Interestingly, Spinoza does not deny the experience, though he denies that it is a ghost. In fact he finds it to predicated on love, and the sharing of an essence. This is what he says,

    “But the effects of imagination, or images originating in the mental disposition, may be omens of some future event; inasmuch as the mind may have a confused presentiment of the future. It may, therefore, imagine a future event as forcibly and vividly, as though it were present; for instance a father (to take an example resembling your own) loves his child so much, that he and the beloved child are, as it were, one and the same. And since (like that which I demonstrated on another occasion) there must necessarily exist in thought the idea of the essence of the child’s states and their results, and since the father, through his union with his child, is a part of the said child, the soul of the father must necessarily participate in the ideal essence of the child and his states, and in their results, as I have shown at greater length elsewhere.”

  13. It’s a relief to think that we are so profoundly related to our relations, because for some reason we too often live with the illusion of alienation and separation.

    Perhaps the part of the father that unites with the soul of the child appears unexpectedly and dramatically as when a whale breaks the surface of the water. In my case I heard a voice one morning just as I sat up in bed, it spoke without emotion or any sense of foreboding, with no persona.

    At any rate, you remind me of something I forgot, that in some respects, they are me, and I am them. Thanks for another transcendent glimmer.

  14. kvond

    {damn again, wrong sign-on, Michael, one last time please delete the above}

    Amarilla: “At any rate, you remind me of something I forgot, that in some respects, they are me, and I am them. Thanks for another transcendent glimmer.”

    Kvond: I think that this is Spinoza’s whole point, not only in the case of the father who premonates his son’s death, but all things, all together, in each of their combinations.

  15. jcarderera@gmail.com

    I am a big Fan of Unamuno, and in some crazy way i find zizek a XXI Unamunian (at least they argumenttion styeles are very similar), unamuno has been labeled by somepeople and wikipedia as a vitalist… I would like if you keep me posted about rour vitalist/death drive inqueries. sorry for my bad 6:23 a.m half learned english.

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