‘Why Todestrieb is a Philosophical Concept’ by Slavoj Žižek

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Sigmund Freud introduces his notorious concept of the ‘Todestrieb’, the ‘death drive’ in his famous essay ‘Jenseits des Lustprinzips’ (‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’) of 1920. This text has intrigued and puzzled many readers as it relates the death drive to both the so-called ‘Nirvana principle’ aiming at a state without tension and the repetition compulsion, the almost mechanical kernel of the drive itself.

If Freud’s death drive stands here philosophically between negation (Schopenhauer) and affirmation (Nietzsche) of the will, Slavoj Žižek insists that  we should not confuse the death drive with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension.

As his The Parallax View states, the death drive is, on the contrary, ‘the very opposite of dying – a name for the “undead” eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain.’

In Žižek’s Lacanian reading, the (death) drive represents a ‘diabolic’ dimension of human beings in opposition to a desire for the lost object that would overcome all differences and tensions. Its articulation as a philosophical concept is certain to lead us also to a deeper understanding of the concept of tension.


Slavoj Žižek is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He has gained wide recognition with his characteristic combination of high and low, of Lacanian theory, pop cultural issues, and Post-Marxism. He has published many books, edited several collections, and published numerous philosophical and political articles.

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