Death-Drive: Freudian Hauntings in Literature and Art

Robert Rowland Smith
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Robert Rowland Smith takes Freud's work on the death-drive and compares it with other philosophies of death - Pascal, Heidegger and Derrida in particular. He also applies it in a new way to literature and art - to Shakespeare, Rothko and Katharina Fritsch, among others. He asks whether artworks are dead or alive, if artistic creativity isn't actually a form of destruction, and whether our ability to be seduced by fine words means we don't put our selves at risk of death. In doing so, he proposes a new theory of aesthetics in which artworks and literary texts have a death-drive of their own, not least by their defining ability to turn away from all that is real, and where the effects of the death-drive mean that we are constantly living in imaginary, rhetorical or 'artistic' worlds. The book also provides a valuable introduction to the rich tradition of work on the death-drive since Freud.Key Features* Includes a general introduction to the death-drive* Presents an original theory of aesthetics* Analyses both theoretical and clinical psychoanalysis* Offers in-depth treatment of Freud* Provides an overview of philosophies of death

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4171-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Note on the Text
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Martin McQuillan
  7. Author’s Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Everything that lives, dies. Equally – for it doesn’t follow – everything that dies will have lived. Rather than being opposites, therefore, it’s fairer to say that living and dying depend on each other, each the other’s condition. Although we might think of death as standing at the end of life, as its destination or terminus, it had to be there from the start – life wouldn’t have been able to get going unless it had agreed to come to an end. Life and death make up the two sides of a same coin – not two different coins –...

  9. Chapter 1 Memento Mori
    (pp. 29-47)

    ‘Once is never’ – this phrase, according to Peter Szondi, encapsulates the golden rule of science and all verifiable knowledge in general. What occurs only once poses something intolerable and indeed impossible for scientific thinking: it cannot be verified and so escapes the order of knowledge as the ground of certainty. How can we be certain of what happens only once? Einmal ist keinmal – scientific thinking views the particular only as a specimen, a species implicitly or explicitly belonging to a genus. Knowledge is derived by inference from specific cases in respect of a general order. In the essay...

  10. Chapter 2 The Death-Drive Does Not Think
    (pp. 48-66)

    My title alludes to an essay by Jean-François Lyotard, ‘The Dream-Work Does Not Think’,¹ which in turn alludes to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. The issue is whether the Freudian theory of psychoanalysis construes the individual psyche as having any capacity to think whatsoever. It might be problematised thus: if the psychic mechanism is compelled to repeat, can any of its intellections be considered as thought or cogitation, as opposed to Pavlovian reaction? The compulsion to repeat is one – perhaps the arch – element making the psychic mechanism mechanical, hence the structural role it plays, and consequently its tolerance of...

  11. Chapter 3 A Subject is Being Beaten
    (pp. 67-81)

    If, according to Freud, the subject pursues its own death, or is steered towards it by a drive for inertia, why not say suicide and masochism lie at the heart of life? Is not suicide the ‘telos’ of being human, and why does Freud jib at the idea?

    My title picks up on Freud’s 1919 paper, ‘A Child Is Being Beaten’. Freud’s title in turn quotes a phrase – one reiterated by several patients in relating their ‘beating-phantasies’. These phantasies typically progress through three phases, it being the second phase that counts:

    This first phase of the beating-phantasy is …...

  12. Chapter 4 White Over Red
    (pp. 82-107)

    Try as I might, I cannot make a mistake. Everything I do – no matter how stupid, how socially inept, how askew from even my own designs – will be just right. I cannot fail.

    Under what circumstances could one make such a claim?

    Under the circumstances of psychoanalytic theory, that’s how. As long as the ‘I’ refers to a psychoanalytic subject, the claim has perfect validity. Freud’s famous work on parapraxes – slips of the tongue and the like – paradoxically implies the psyche never goes wrong. Chapter ten of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is entitled ‘Errors’. Paragraphs...

  13. Chapter 5 Literature – Repeat Nothing
    (pp. 108-133)

    The title of Ian McEwan’s 1998 novel, Enduring Love, invites images of a romantic relationship surviving adversity with the rich resources of sentimental intensity. But those images are qualified severely when the story gets under way. First, the love portrayed is unrequited; second, it is pathological; third, it is homosexual (in a markedly heterosexual world); fourth, it is a manifestation of Christian fanaticism. The word ‘enduring’ in the title becomes menacing, suggesting obsession. It also reflects back on the object of the love who must ‘endure’ the menace such ‘love’ presents.

    The unrequited, pathological, homosexual, Christian-fanatic lover is called Jed...

  14. Chapter 6 A Harmless Suggestion
    (pp. 134-165)

    ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’: Macbeth’s first words invoke, from the start, a coextensiveness of benefit and harm that will dominate the remainder of his foreshortened life. The ‘day’, a semi-objective correlative for his own destiny, will be foul and fair in equal measure. What will make him will also destroy him, giving him advantage only to the degree that it scuppers him too. As Macbeth is magnified, so he disintegrates, like a photographic blow-up.

    Within seconds the Thane of Glamis finds himself swept into the orbit of suggestion. The witches appear. The third witch...

  15. Chapter 7 The Rest of Radioactive Light
    (pp. 166-179)

    Like the light from a dead star, waves still emanate toward us from, among other times, the early seventeenth century – from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for instance, as we saw in the last chapter, or from Hamlet. In some sense the play remains contemporary with us, though in a sense quite different from the broadly humanist assertion of its universal and continuing relevance.

    The persistence of an old thing, even a dead one, the continuance of light over time, the concept of the photograph, the ‘radioactivity’ of artworks, Hamlet, Samuel Beckett and, again, Freud – these are the themes I want...

  16. Postscript: Approaching Death
    (pp. 180-206)

    I stand before a monk who stands before me.

    Mönch is a sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, first exhibited in the premillennial year of 1999. It is polyester, painted a matt black, and measures 192 cm by 63 cm by 46 cm – life size – being a cast of the artist’s friend, Frank Fenstermacher (a richly appropriate name, perhaps, for this candid window-maker has provided the raw material for a uniquely opaque object).

    I have seen it twice, in different galleries, though it feels more apt to say that I have visited it twice, or even visited him twice, except...

  17. Index
    (pp. 207-216)