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Bell, D. (2004). Reflections on the Death Drive: Commentary on ‘The So-Called Death Drive’ by Jean Laplanche. Brit. J. Psychother., 20(4):485-491.

(2004). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 20(4):485-491

Reflections on the Death Drive: Commentary on ‘The So-Called Death Drive’ by Jean Laplanche Related Papers

David Bell

The concept of the death drive remains controversial. Some have tended to account for what they regard as a peculiar diversion in Freud's thinking, a diversion which lacks credibility, by recourse to the context in which the paper was written - the horrors of the Great War, with its wanton and senseless destruction, Freud's cancer, his awareness of his own death, as if this can provide an excuse for this ‘bizarre’ departure. Others see this paper as not really a departure but the final explicit statement of something that had been implicit almost from the beginning. The issues at stake go beyond psychoanalysis and trench upon the conception of human nature within which it embeds itself. It is the difference between man as the ‘noble savage’, a creature made destructive by experience, particularly the experience of frustration, and the model perhaps expressed in the idea of ‘original sin’ which holds that we enter the world with the will to destroy already beating in our breasts, creating a pervasive tendency which culture can only to a limited extent mitigate. Given that frustration is an ever-present phenomenon from the beginning of life, it is not likely that there can be any empirical way of deciding this matter.

British analysts, and particularly Kleinians, when discussing the death drive, make ample use of clinical material. The material serves not to prove or disprove the existence of the death drive, which of course it cannot do, as clinical material is always interpretable, but more serves to illustrate how the model functions in the analyst's work.

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