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Naso, R.C. (2015). Freud, Psychoanalysis and Death. By Liran Razinsky. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 303 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 102(4):591-597.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Review, 102(4):591-597

Freud, Psychoanalysis and Death. By Liran Razinsky. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 303 pp.

Review by:
Ronald C. Naso, Ph.D., ABPP

Did Freud ignore the significance of death? Or is it more correct to say that death anxiety was a powerful but unacknowledged presence in his thought? While death is conspicuously absent in Freud's earliest works, a cursory reading of his later writings provides support for the thesis that death played a central role in mental life. After all, did he not ultimately accord to Thanatos an importance equivalent to Eros in the shaping of the human condition? At the clinical level, Freud found ample evidence of man's destructiveness. He discerned resonances of the death drive in phenomena as diverse as the repetition compulsion, negative therapeutic reactions, and severe depression as well as in the overt destructiveness of sadism and group violence. In each, he moved our thinking beyond the idea of destructiveness as exclusively derivative of frustration, even of trauma. Increasingly, death assumed the status of a transcendental phenomenon, as one of two ultimate or foundational processes shaping human reality.

What is the death drive really about? To describe a drive pressing for a return to an original inorganic, inanimate state (Freud, 1920) is not at all to address death as a human problem. “People do not die because of the death drive, and it is not the death drive they fear” (Razinsky, p. 135). And it is precisely this distinction that Dr. Razinsky emphasizes in Freud, Psychoanalysis and Death—first, in his treatment of the meaning and place of death in Freud's thought, and later in the ambivalence if not outright failure of Freud and post-Freudian psychoanalysis to face its implications.

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