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Mills, J. (2009). On: Life and death in Freudian metapsychology. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 90(4):906-907.

(2009). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 90(4):906-907

On: Life and death in Freudian metapsychology Related Papers

Jon Mills

Dear Editors,

In a recent article published in this Journal, Fátima Caropreso and Richard Simanke (2008) provide an original deconstruction of the death drive [Todestrieb] concept in Freudian metapsychology, which nicely illuminates the theoretical tensions, ambivalences, and contradictions inherent to instinctual dualism. Despite the scholarly strength of their contribution, the authors fail to consider that what Freud was attempting to articulate in his later drive theory was ultimately a dialectical enterprise and not simply a metaphysical dualism. The authors claim that “the duality between life and death instincts is not at all easily justified” (p. 985), concluding that there is “a basic impasse in the theory” (p. 988). This is a standard interpretation of Freud, one that perpetuates a misunderstanding of the philosophical sophistication of his position. In my opinion, the authors fail to grasp the dialectical nature of the drives, where life and death, being and nothingness, are mutually implicative dialectical relations that constitute the opposing forces that fuel and sustain psychic organization. It is important to note, as I have done elsewhere (Mills, 2002, 2006), that Freud's metapsychology adheres to a developmental monistic ontology, where drive becomes modified, differentiated, and refined from its original primal form (as negation and conflict qua death) to the complex process-system of opposing desires, pulsions, and their phenomenal valences that populate mental life. Here we need to distinguish ontological dualism, itself a philosophical conundrum at best, from the phenomenology of the drives, which Freud is attempting to explain when he posits his dual drive hypothesis: drives appear as antithetical organizations despite emanating from a monistic foundation. The theoretical problematic of his so-called instinctual dualism is adequately reconciled when we realize that original drive modifies itself and is differentiated by competing aims and motives yoked in multiply instantiated forms, yet they are ontologically conjoined in dialectical symmetry. I believe the authors may find a reasonable solution to Freud's theoretic contradictions when viewing drive theory from a dialectical process framework.

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