Beyond the principle of calmness


Sigmund Freud’s 1920 text Beyond the Pleasure Principle marked a radical cut in Freud’s work, in the history of psychoanalysis, and in the very conception of the human being. If until then, the principle of pleasure was conceived as the principle that governed the psychic apparatus and the formations of the unconscious, with the introduction of the notion of the death drive (Todestrieb), its reason is reversed. Jacques Lacan’s reading of this turning point in Freud’s work opens, with the notion of jouissance, a field beyond the pleasure that is also beyond the principle of tranquillity.

pleasure, death drive, unconscious, wish

[Automatic translation from Catalan]:

They must have guessed the homology of this title with that famous 1920 text by Sigmund Freud, Beyond the pleasure principle, the principle governing the primary processes of the unconscious. Just as there is a failure of the pleasure principle in the psychic apparatus, it is equally impossible to maintain a principle of constant tranquillity. The failure of the principle of tranquillity would therefore be the equivalent of the failure of the principle of pleasure which, according to Jacques Lacan’s definition, consists of «to enjoy as little as possible». In other words, the repetition of the cycle of satisfaction of any beat, carried to the limit, necessarily involves the death drive. The death drive (Todestrieb) is the notion introduced by Freud in 1920 and that many of his pupils rejected as being impossible to assume: every drive, life impulse par excellence, becomes death drive in the repeated cycle of the pleasure principle. This paradox is one of the consequences that we can draw from this even more current Freud text, a hundred years later, if we look at the various crises – social, political and ecological – that human being has to face in the 21st century.

Indeed, we can understand this core text as the result of two lines of thought that cross western thinking. The first is the principle of Aristotle’s ethics: human beings, in search of good and pleasure, tend to rest. The second is the thought of Blaise Pascal in the origin of modern science: absolute rest is death. Jacques Lacan formulated this paradoxical knot with the notion of «plus of […]

Miquel Bassols
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