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Slochower, H. (1964). Eros and the Trauma of Death. Am. Imago, 21(3-4):11-22.

(1964). American Imago, 21(3-4):11-22

Eros and the Trauma of Death

Harry Slochower

In The Psychiatrist and The Dying Patient1—a perceptive study which has yet to receive proper evaluation—K. R. Eissler notes that man is the only species which knows death, and that this knowledge shapes his life. Possibly, it shapes his life even more than the Oedipus complex.

Preoccupation with death has a unique character in our time. Death is a major theme in modern philosophy from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Heidegger and Sartre. It is a focus for many modern and contemporary writers and artists from Novalis to Thomas Mann and the theatre of “the absurd.” We see it in painting from the expressionists (especially Karl Hofer) and Pablo Picasso. And, since Freud's publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), the subject has been receiving increasing attention in psychology, notably George B. Wilbur, Norman 0. Brown, Paul Friedman, Joost Meerloo, Herman Feifel and K. R. Eissler.

Freud holds that the unconscious harbors no image of our own death. It would follow that the death drive is not “inborn,” that no one wants to die. The idea that, “by nature,” we all want to live is put forth in Spinoza's famous principle of “conatus.”

In his Ethics (III, Prop. VII), Spinoza states: “Everything, insofar as it is in itself, endeavors to persist in its own being.”

Yet, just as the question of “to be” is decided for us when we are born, so the question of “not to be” is answered by our past history in which all that was born, died. To counter this melancholy fate, man has made manifold attempts to “circumvent” death or to find some consolations for it—by religion, philosophy, mysticism, art and psychology.

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