In 1931 the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation invited certain intellectuals to communicate and think about the solutions to the problems facing the world. The First World War was over but the second one was already knocking on the door. The developments in central Europe were signs of the approaching disaster. Einstein was one of the intellectuals the institute got in touch with, and he proposed Freud as a participant in this collaboration. In 1932 Einstein wrote a letter to Freud and asked him how the tendency of humanity to war, destruction and violence could be overcome, if it could be overcome. Einstein expected Freud to come up with some practical solutions. Einstein wanted revolution, but a great admirer of Darwin, Freud talked about evolution.
Freud responded to Einstein after about a month. Throughout the letter Freud emphasized that he couldn’t do what Einstein expected him to, that it was impossible for him to come up with practical solutions to the problem of aggression inherent in human nature.
In his response to Einstein’s letter Freud interrogated the relation between the aggressive impulse in human nature and the organization of society and concluded that in the organization of social order aggression was unavoidable.
In the second part of his letter Freud mentioned the role played by drives in the inner world of human-beings and summarized his theory of drives. According to Freud the polarity between the forces of attraction and repulsion, which Einstein was familiar with as a physicist, also existed in human psyche. One of these forces was the life drive which aimed at self-preservation and unification, the erotic force represented by Eros. The other force was the death drive which aimed at destruction and splitting, represented by Thanatos.
But we must not be too hasty in introducing ethical judgements of good and evil. Neither of these instincts is any less essential than the other; the phenomena of life arise from the concurrent or mutually opposing action of both. Now it seems as though an instinct of the one sort can scarcely ever operate in isolation; it is always accompanied—or, as we say, alloyed – with a certain quota from the other side, which modifies its aim or is, in some cases, what enables it to achieve that aim. Thus, for instance, the instinct of self-preservation is certainly of an erotic kind, but it must nevertheless have aggressiveness at its disposal if it is to fulfil its purpose. So, too, the instinct of love, when it is directed towards an object, stands in need of some contribution from the instinct for mastery if it is in any way to obtain possession of that object. The difficulty of isolating the two classes of instinct in their actual manifestation is indeed what has so long prevented us from recognizing them.
For Freud the death drive was targeting the living organism, aiming at turning the organic into inorganic. Because of the intervention of the self-preservative force of the life drive, the death drive was turned towards the external world by a psychic operation, so that the self-destruction of the organism was prevented.
It is important to note here that death drive does not correspond to self-destruction. The death drive postpones the self-destruction of the organism by projecting aggression onto the external world and hence can be said to serve self-preservation. The self-destructive impulse turns against itself and manifests itself as violence and aggression against the others. The subject kills the others not to kill itself. “The death instinct turns into the destructive instinct when, with the help of special organs, it is directed outwards, on to objects. The organism preserves its own life, so to say, by destroying an extraneous one.” It is this scenario that makes it possible to say that there is a disjunctive synthesis at work here. A term coined by Gilles Deleuze, disjunctive synthesis defines the operation in and through which the two components of an apparatus, a psychic apparatus in this case, appear to be the two differently conceived constituents of the same thing.
The influence of Nietzsche’s concepts of the will to nothingness and eternal return are pervasive in Freud’s later work. Freud’s turn towards metapsychology and his consequent creation of the concept of the death drive is rooted in his need for something to fill in the gaps in his scientific and empirically observable theories owing much to Darwin. Freud was uneasy with the concept of the death drive on account of its non-scientific nature, but nevertheless he had to conceptualize the death drive as the counterpart of the life drive in order to be able to go beyond the pleasure principle. Educated as a neuroscientist Freud was aware that he was contradicting himself and perhaps even turning against his earlier attitude towards the human psyche by showing that at the beginning was the death drive and that the life drive was only an outcome, a kind of defense against the death drive.
In his Civilization and Its Discontents Freud talked about the oceanic feeling, a sense of oneness with the world which he admits to have never experienced personally. Perhaps his creation of the highly speculative concept of the death drive was Freud’s attempt to fill the gap opened by the absence of this oceanic feeling for him.
Writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother’s womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease.
via Complete Lies.
- Psychoanalysis and Society (socyberty.com)
- The Assault on Freud (time.com)
- Freud’s Last Session (variety.com)
- Mortal, All Too Mortal: Nihilistic Speculations from Dr. Lawgiverz (3) (cengizerdem.wordpress.com)
- The Unconscious – Rethinking the Unthinkable (epages.wordpress.com)
- Nature, Culture, and Lacan (cengizerdem.wordpress.com)
- Cinematic Apparatus, Brain, and the Psyche as Fantasy Machines (cengizerdem.wordpress.com)
- Bifurcations between Bergson and Einstein (footnotes2plato.com)