Drives and culture seem to stand at opposite ends. The common assumption has it that drives are indomitable instinctual forces and that culture is called upon to mold them, restrict them and channel them, and since this conflict can never be happily resolved, we seem to be doomed to a perpetual discontent in civilization. This is the point that seems to be implied in the very title of Freud’s Civilization and its discontents (1930). The aim of the present paper is to dismantle this common understanding, for in psychoanalysis everything depends on doing away with its presuppositions. The paper will follow Freud’s argument and scrutinize six distinguishing traits of culture that he spells out, and then try to show that each of them is closely entangled with the nature of the drives such as pinpointed by Freud. The paradoxical outcome would be that drives and culture share the same basic structures, and that if there is conflict it would have to be conceived in very different terms. Freud himself proposed a conflict between two kinds of drives, libido and death drive, rather than a conflict between drives and culture, but his solutions entails many problems. The paper will in conclusion consider the placement of psychoanalysis in the rift between sciences of nature and humanities/social sciences, hence the very divide between nature and culture and the paradoxical ways in which psychoanalysis envisages that divide.
Professor Mladen Dolar is a philosopher, cultural theorist, film critic and expert in psychoanalysis. Dolar was the co-founder, together with Slavoj Žižek and Rastko Močnik, of the Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis, whose main goal is to achieve a synthesis between Lacanian psychoanalysis and the philosophy of German idealism. Dolar has taught at the University of Ljubljana since 1982 and has served as an Advising Researcher in theory at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht. His main fields of expertise are the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel (on which he has written several books, including a two-volume interpretation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit) and French structuralism. He is also a music theoretician and film critic. His numerous publications include most notably the book A Voice and Nothing More (MIT Press 2006).
A public lecture by Professor Mladen Dolar
The Center for Arts and Humanities
October 13, 2016 at 4:00 pm, CAH seminar room
Bldg. 37, American University of Beirut (AUB)