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Revisiting the death drive via Lacan, Žižek …and the political

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Birkbeck, University of London

Malet Street

Room B36

London

WC1E 7HX

United Kingdom

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Despite that the death drive has proved one of Freud’s most controversial and contested notions, it is also one of his most evocative and enduring contributions to psychoanalysis. If we are to assess the relevance of the concept today for various – clinical, psychosocial, cultural - forms of application, we need to ask: how has the concept been refashioned? Perhaps the crucial thinker in this respect is Jacques Lacan, who defended the death drive as an essential concept of psychoanalysis, whilst vigorously disputing quasi-biological notions that so typically accompany its use. It is via Lacan, and Slavoj Žižek’s revisiting of Lacan, that we are able to oppose interpretations of the death drive as biological instinct, cosmic principle and self-annihilating impulse with the Lacanian notions of repetition automatism, ‘undead’ life, symbolic mortification and the conceptualization of the ‘zone between two deaths’. Drawing on Franklin Shaffner’s (1973) film Papillon as an illustrative resource, this talk will both introduce a Lacanian reconceptualization of the death drive, and, via critical reflection on Zizek’s philosophical engagements, argue for its use as vital instrument of psychosocial and political analysis.

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Birkbeck, University of London

Malet Street

Room B36

London

WC1E 7HX

United Kingdom

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