Death drive

In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the death drive (German: Todestrieb) is the drive toward death and self-destruction. It was originally proposed by Sabina Spielrein in her paper "Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being" (Die Destruktion als Ursache des Werdens) in 1912, which was then taken up by Sigmund Freud in 1920 in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. This concept has been translated as "opposition between the ego or death instincts and the sexual or life instincts". In Pleasure Principle, Freud used the plural "death drives" (Todestriebe) much more frequently than in the singular. The death drive opposes Eros, the tendency toward survival, propagation, sex, and other creative, life-producing drives. The death drive is sometimes referred to as "Thanatos" in post-Freudian thought, complementing "Eros", although this term was not used in Freud's own work, being rather introduced by Wilhelm Stekel in 1909 and then by Paul Federn in the present context. The Standard Edition of Freud's works in English confuses two terms that are different in German, Instinkt ("instinct") and Trieb ("drive"), often translating both as instinct; for example, "the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state". "This equating of Instinkt and Trieb has created serious misunderstandings". Freud actually refers to the term "Instinkt" in explicit use elsewhere, and so while the concept of "instinct" can loosely be referred to as a "drive," any essentialist or naturalist connotations of the term should be put in abeyance. In a sense, the death drive is a force that is not essential to the life of an organism (unlike an "instinct") and tends to denature it or make it behave in ways that are sometimes counter-intuitive. In other words, the term death "drive" is simply a false representation of death instinct. The term is almost universally known in scholarly literature on Freud as the "death drive", and Lacanian psychoanalysts often shorten it to simply "drive" (although Freud posited the existence of other drives as well, and Lacan explicitly states in Seminar XI that all drives are partial to the death drive). The contemporary Penguin translations of Freud translate Trieb and Instinkt as "drive" and "instinct" respectively.


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