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Frank, C. (2015). On the Reception of the Concept of the Death Drive in Germany: Expressing and Resisting an ‘Evil Principle’?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 96(2):425-444.

(2015). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 96(2):425-444

On the Reception of the Concept of the Death Drive in Germany: Expressing and Resisting an ‘Evil Principle’? Language Translation

Claudia Frank

(Accepted for publication 5 March 2014)

With Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud attempted ‘to describe and to account for the facts of daily observation in our field of study’ (1920, p. 7), in particular concerning destructive clinical phenomena that confront us in the analytic situation: traumatic neuroses, melancholic states, negative-therapeutic reactions, masochism, repetition compulsion and so on. The author demonstrates in the first section how Freud's own resistance - later self-diagnosed - to recognizing these unwelcome facts was expressed in the terminological and conceptual ambiguities of the death drive hypothesis then introduced, ambiguities that to some extent continue to impede the reception of its clinical usefulness to this day. As soon as Freud had demonstrated the connection with clinical practice more directly in The Ego and the Id (1923), some contemporaries adopted it as a helpful clinical concept, while others believed that they could (and must) refute it. The second part outlines its reception in the 1920s and 1930s, which was part of an international discussion that was, of course, initially conducted mainly in German. The beginnings of an important further development of the death drive hypothesis are described in a separate section because it originated from Melanie Klein's earliest experiences in analysing children in Berlin in the early to mid-1920s. She referred at that time to an ‘evil principle’, and in 1932 published her view of the death drive hypothesis, which was further developed in subsequent decades by her and her followers in London. In this period, conditions changed dramatically: in Germany Freud's books (among others) were burnt, crimes against humanity were instigated and psychoanalysis ceased to exist in this country. Almost all the analysts who published on the death drive had to emigrate. From then on, entirely different discourses took place in the various regions. In Germany, the death drive hypothesis was (largely) disregarded or rejected for decades after the Holocaust. Frank demonstrates how the uncritical recourse in relevant works to this day to an article by Brun in 1953 that considered the death drive to have been comprehensively refuted on the basis of (apparently) comprehensive literature research can be understood as a symptom. Pursuing some reflections by Beland (1988) and Cycon (1995), the author expounds her thesis that in Germany the clinical usefulness of the death drive hypothesis could not be considered as long as destructive impulses were still an immediate social reality. According to the author's observations, in stating that there had been a ‘definite reaction formation against death drive hypotheses’, Brun had unintentionally made an accurate diagnosis. It was not until the realization of inevitable perpetrator identifications (‘Hitler in us’) in this country became (more widely) possible that a concern with the death drive hypothesis could also resume. In the final section, the author takes up one line of this development and traces how some German analysts in the 1980s came into contact with Kleinian developments that had since occurred and how these found and find their way into their analytic working. She closes by asking whether it might be appropriate to consider Melanie Klein's concept of an evil principle - along with the pleasure and reality principles - as a less ambiguous one for the phenomena under consideration.

[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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