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Terada, R. (2014). A Politics of the Death Drive: Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis. Todd McGowan. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 364 pp.. Am. Imago, 71(1):89-96.

(2014). American Imago, 71(1):89-96

A Politics of the Death Drive: Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis. Todd McGowan. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. 364 pp.

Review by:
Randall Terada

Enjoyment and the Death Drive

Joan Copjec (2000) once said of the Freudian Trieb or drive, “of all Freud's notions, that of the drive has had the least success in attracting supporters; it obliges a kind of rethinking that only the boldest of thinkers would dare to undertake” (p. 279). In his most recent book, Todd McGowan has taken up this challenge with a provocative Lacanian reading of the death drive. His title lays out his message in stark terms: “Enjoying what we don't have” stakes out a relationship of enjoyment to loss, or to that which we might rather reject, forsake, banish, or foist onto an other. Furthermore, as the subtitle, “The political project of psychoanalysis,” indicates, McGowan attempts to subjectivize the death drive and his book illuminates what this subject, a subject of drive, would entail for politics.

In Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-1960) Jacques Lacan insists that psychoanalysis is not about “prescriptions for or the regulation of what I have called the service of goods” (1986/1992, p. 385). In other words, unlike other forms of therapy, psychoanalysis is not in the business of providing a missing satisfaction. Building upon this point, McGowan notes that in the twenty-five years between Freud's 1895 “Project for a Scientific Psychology” and his 1920 Beyond the Pleasure Principle, an important difference emerged in Freud's theory of satisfaction: in the “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” satisfaction is obtained through a discharge of excitation, while in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, with the discovery of the death drive, satisfaction is achieved via repetition and return to an original loss (McGowan, 2013, p. 28). This baseline—that we find enjoyment, as distinct from pleasure, in the death drive—underscores McGowan's entire argument.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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