Welcome to the fifth masterclass on Slavoj Žižek’s philosophy. This article focuses on the death drive.
For Žižek, the death drive is a fundamental principle. This fundamental principle is against many other fundamental principles from spirituality or psychology or religion, as we will approach below. The most important dimension is that the death drive is beyond pleasure. The death drive is located within the psychical topography that Freud starts to approach in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
The beyond of pleasure is a drive for something beyond worldly objects. For the pleasure principle, there is always a worldly object which one wants, whether that is food, sex, or some other material gain (+), that will bring some basic pleasure. This motion, for Freud, starts to regulate the subject. You regulate yourself in relation to different worldly objects which bring pleasure, and this solidifies the ego. However, the death drive is beyond all of this, it is the first step towards real subjective freedom and real detachment from the world.
That brings us to the metaphysics of the drive. When you are in the mode of the pleasure principle, your mask, the ego you present to the world, is being solidified by worldly objects but its not really you. There are all sorts of cracks, gaps, and antagonisms in your imaginary ego, that need to be approached in order to reach your truth. Your world mask is in some sense preventing you from a more direct confrontation with trauma, and with a negativity which needs to be confronted for true self-deffiniton.
When one is in the mode of the drive, one is no longer aligning oneself to worldly objects of pleasure, but the pure potential of becoming. The pure potential is not seen in the world, it is invisible in the world, but nonetheless the most real thing in our day-to-day, moment-to-moment existence.
But, the problem is, when you drop the world mask, and align with pure potential, what you are really doing is affirming an eternal tension and struggle. It is never going to be easy, there are always going to be ups and downs. This is the reality of the drive, which brings joy beyond pleasure, an excess of excitement and passion because you are no longer tethered to the world mask.
This means, for Žižek, that the principle of Thanatos is asymmetrically greater than Eros. It is not a binary opposition that is a balance of the opposites. Thanatos opens the space for Eros, which can largely be seen as the drive opening the space for the pleasure principle; or the unconscious (id) opening up the space for the will (ego).
Thanatos underlies the will; death drive underlies the will. The will is not the ultimate reality or creative principle. That means that you will never be truly reinventing yourself, unless you drop the world mask, and go to the death drive, and create in relation to less than nothing.
The most important thing, is that because Thanatos/death drive is more fundamental, it is a movement of its own, it is not a movement which we are in control of. We cannot stop this movement. It is the ground upon which we think we are creating, the ground upon which we think we are in control.
This brings us to the level of what Žižek refers to as the Holy Spirit. This reality needs to be situated in relation to a metaphysical coordinate system that includes Buddhism and Heideggerian philosophy.
In regards to the Buddhism, consider the Buddhist void, where we confront the idea of the release of all tension, and the pure void of subjectivity. For Žižek, this is the maximal expression of the pleasure principle which seeks to release oneself from all tension. When you feel tension, you go for a pleasure object that would relieve tension, and for Žižek, the Buddhist void is the logical immanence of the pleasure principle itself.
Then in relation to Heidegger’s central notion that Dasein (being-in-the-world) there is the will-core of subjectivity. For Zizek, the death drive is more fundamental than will-core of subjectivity. The death drive breaks being-in-the-world.
For Žižek, the death drive is the immortal drive, a will and movement of its own, and what Christianity would call the Holy Spirit, the egalitarian community, the community of Love, a pure motion of Love which dissolves all identities.
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