Of symbolic mortification and ‘Undead Life’: Slavoj Žižek on the death drive
Psychoanalysis and History
Between two deaths, Death drive, Lacan, Lamella, Libido, Symbolic, Žižek
The work of Slavoj Žižek contains arguably the most conceptually ambitious re-articulation of the Lacanian notion of the death drive. This paper offers an expository thread joining many of the fragmentary depictions of the death drive in Žižek's work. I begin by tracing the most counter-intuitive aspects of Žižek's re-articulations of the concept. Opposing the notions of death drive as biological instinct, cosmic principle, Nirvana-like release, and self-annihilating impulse, Žižek highlights instead the Lacanian notions of repetition automatism, excess negativity, ‘undead’ eternal life, and symbolic mortification. Žižek provides useful applications of a series of related Lacanian ideas – the lamella, the zone between two deaths, and the ethical dimension of the death drive – and extends these via a set of philosophical conceptualizations (self-relating negativity, negative inherence, death drive as non-historicizable). The last section of the paper explores how the notion of self-relating negativity allows Žižek to consolidate the foregoing Lacanian concepts and to understand the death drive as simultaneously reflexive, a-subjective and ‘meta-causative’.
Hook, D. (2016). Of symbolic mortification and ‘Undead Life’: Slavoj Žižek on the death drive. Psychoanalysis and History, 18 (2), 221-256. https://doi.org/10.3366/pah.2016.0190