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Hook, D. (2016). Of Symbolic Mortification and ‘Undead Life’: Slavoj Žižek on the Death Drive. Psychoanal. Hist., 18(2):221-256.

(2016). Psychoanalysis and History, 18(2):221-256

Of Symbolic Mortification and ‘Undead Life’: Slavoj Žižek on the Death Drive

Derek Hook

The work of Slavoj Žižek contains arguably the most conceptually ambitious re-articulation of the Lacanian notion of the death drive. This paper offers an expository thread joining many of the fragmentary depictions of the death drive in Žižek's work. I begin by tracing the most counter-intuitive aspects of Žižek's re-articulations of the concept. Opposing the notions of death drive as biological instinct, cosmic principle, Nirvana-like release, and self-annihilating impulse, Žižek highlights instead the Lacanian notions of repetition automatism, excess negativity, ‘undead’ eternal life, and symbolic mortification. Žižek provides useful applications of a series of related Lacanian ideas - the lamella, the zone between two deaths, and the ethical dimension of the death drive - and extends these via a set of philosophical conceptualizations (self-relating negativity, negative inherence, death drive as non-historicizable). The last section of the paper explores how the notion of self-relating negativity allows Žižek to consolidate the foregoing Lacanian concepts and to understand the death drive as simultaneously reflexive, a-subjective and ‘meta-causative’.

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