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Bell, D.L. (2015). The Death Drive: Phenomenological Perspectives in Contemporary Kleinian Theory. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 96(2):411-423.

(2015). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 96(2):411-423

Education Section

The Death Drive: Phenomenological Perspectives in Contemporary Kleinian Theory Language Translation

David L. Bell

(Accepted for publication 5 March 2014)

In Goethe's epic masterpiece of modernity, Faust, the protagonist, a seeker after knowledge, laments his frustrations with the fruits of his labour, rails against their limited nature, the obstructions that stand in his way. He says:

No new strength wells up within me

I am not a hairsbreadth taller

I am still no nearer the infinite

Faust craves the infinite and so the meagre gains of his endless toiling for knowledge pale into insignificance when compared to the new object of his longing - omniscience. Faust is hidebound by ‘considerations of reality’ and this state of mind provides fertile soil for the devil's work; Mephistopheles offers a world of no obstruction, where all desire can be realized.

Mephistopheles introduces himself as the spirit “that negates all”, he continues:

all that is deserves to perish

better if nothing had ever been born

He personifies the negative principle, the antithesis of thought and creativity. We learn that Faust has no independent existence of his own but is called into being by the presence of good. Some regard evil/human hatred only as the absence of but Freud, like Goethe, did not see human destructiveness in such passive terms; it is not only the negative of good, it is the negation of good.

Mr A, a patient in his early 30s, manifested an air of utter detachment and suppression of feeling. He related his life as a series of meaningless facts devoid of significance. Important events which have taken place in his life, all suggesting some real growth and development in the analysis have, apparently, no connection with it. Characteristically, a certain deadliness invades the consulting room. Early on he brought the following dream: There had been a nuclear explosion. The dust, fall-out, fell all over me. It was pleasant and peaceful. This dream seems to bring very clearly the workings of a destructive activity. But how one understands it is not self-evident.

Within contemporary Kleinian thinking the death drive is conceptualised according to a number of different models.

[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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