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While we are being-loved perpetually in the womb, where all our desires are met, after birth these processes are bound to certain conditions. Satisfaction is now dependent on external objects, and we start loving our own body to compensate that, as a means of being-loved without depending on others.

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That way, we start loving to satisfy our need of being-loved; this is called secondary narcissism. This again confirms that the passivity of being-loved goes before the activity of loving, or, in other words, that Eros comes to us first from the outside.

Thanatos in English

In the relation of the mother to the embryo, we could say that the embryo is permanently being-loved by the mother, so that its death drive is neutralised and it continues to grow. The embryo itself is completely narcissistic in the sense that it feels fully satisfied in its pure passivity. It is after birth, which Freud describes as a traumatic experience and as the original experience of fear Angst cf.

The aspect of inhibition brings us to a central point of the theory of drives, namely that both Eros and Thanatos need to be displaced. Displacement occurs whenever the direct route to satisfaction is somehow blocked and we need to find other ways to release the tension that is built up in us. Here, the whole activity of the unconscious comes into play: displacing, repressing, disguising, densifying. The direct satisfaction of the death drive, which strives for the abolition of unities, would be the immediate self-destruction of the organism. Because it is a fundamental drive that originates within us, we can never get rid of it.

This means that the organism needs to find other ways to avoid it from harming it, while still somehow satisfying the death drive. In what way can we say that Eros needs to be displaced and inhibited? It all boils down to the definition of the drive. Freud posits that drives are essentially conservative, that they have the need to restore a previous condition cf.


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In that sense, founding the fundamental development of life and culture on drives stands in contrast to theories that are built on the will as a positive and often unexplainable strive towards the future. Freud denies the existence of such a creative force. Either way, this definition works quite smoothly with the death drive. If the latter is all about restoring the inorganic condition by abolishing all unities, we can indeed see how it is conceptualised as a return , as a repetition. The death drive arises when the primal inorganic condition is somehow disrupted by the genesis of life and the whole intention is to return that condition, to repeat it.

But if Eros is a fundamental drive , then the element of repetition must pertain to it as well.

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Before we tackle this problem, let us note that if Eros is a drive — and Freud insists on that — , then we will have to assume two forms of repetition, one for each fundamental drive, and we can assume that one of them will be a productive repetition, pertaining to Eros creating higher unities, and one of them will be destructive , pertaining to Thanatos destroying those unities and approaching the inorganic condition. We already know what Thanatos wants to repeat, and we know how it does that — by using the pleasure principle to constantly reduce irritation.

If we ask the same thing about Eros, we need to note that it seems that Freud never really managed to resolve this problem for himself either cf. We can see why it is problematic: If Eros is the force that permanently creates higher unities, in what way can it be really understood as a repetition? What condition does Eros want to restore? Much rather, it seems future-oriented than aiming at a primal condition. Still, Freud insisted on understanding Eros as a drive and not as some positive force , and explicitly poses the question of its repetition close to the ending of Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

It is the famous myth that in the beginning of creation, all humans were double beings with two heads, four arms and four legs and two genitals that were then cut apart by Zeus and which then desired to reunite with each other. But it is hardly the case that Freud wanted to sell us the idea of soulmates, and the passages that follow the retelling of the myth and others where he tries to reply to that problem are quite obscure.

Before answering this question, Freud abandons his speculations, and we might understand why he does so in light of the answer his question seems to imply. But as he himself admits, the breast is not always at hand, and the baby already feels displeasure. We might therefore feel inclined to go a bit beyond Freud, trying to think through what is only implied in his texts.

Freud often speaks of the womb as the place of primary narcissism, a condition that we want to repeat when going to bed every night cf. Introductory Lectures , p. The first thing to note here is that this not only answers the question of why Eros is to be understood as a drive, but also why it necessarily needs to be displaced.

After all, it is physically impossible for us to return into the womb, and if this desire is to be met, deviations need to be found that will offer it a worthy alternative, a similar satisfaction. We can see this happening in regard to a part of Freudian theory that is perplexing the readers even today, namely the Oedipus complex and the sexual desire of the son for his mother. In itself, this desire remains a mystery, especially since Freud posits an original bisexuality of all humans, in view of which it would be equally plausible for the son to desire his father. We can see in this displacement already a change from the mere passivity of the womb to the active sexual desire, and it is in that sense that the Oedipus complex might play an important role in overcoming the merely passive wish of being-loved.

Regarding the question of what it is that the two drives want to repeat which condition they want to reinstate , we can note another interesting displacement. In short, the death drives repeats an unreal condition one that it has never experienced while Eros repeats a real condition the one in the womb.

Thanatos - Greek Mythology Link

One might therefore speculate that the ideas of a blissful afterlife, where the soul rests in the presence of God, is an unreal phantasy that intends to fulfil the desire of Eros for repetition by imagining an analogous situation to the womb. Civilisation and its Discontents , ch. Just as the embryonic condition was about a passive integration within a higher unity, the otherworldly bliss portrays a higher unity with God. In short, while the death drive repeats an unreal condition with a real one, Eros repeats a real condition with an unreal one. Both repetitions are inherently displaced.

After all, returning to the inorganic state is exactly what it wants and exactly what it does after we die. We might ask ourselves here, if the inorganic state before our conception is really congruent with the inorganic state after our death. The difference can be seen in the suicidal wish, which is not merely about ending the pain and disappearing from the world, but to never have existed in the first place.

Yet, while the desire of not existing anymore is not only possible, but will necessarily come to its fulfilment, the desire of never having existed is impossible. We cannot undo our existence and the changes that we have made in this world. If this really makes a difference or not — we are not really in a position to answer that. But the aspect which would cause the difference between the inorganic state before our birth and the one after our death, is individuation. Before our birth, there was not a trace of us in the world, while after our death, we had been in it, even if only for a short time.

If individuation causes the potential displacement of the death drive, we can say the same about Eros. After all, it is due to us becoming individual beings that we can no longer return to the womb, as there we were completely dissolved in a higher unity. The individual is by its very nature a distinct entity, separated from the world, which means that a complete passive dissolution is impossible for it as long as it is alive. Even the mythical experience needs to assume a subject that makes that experience. The separation of the individual from its surroundings gives it the minimal difference of having been.


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This inhibits its total dissolution in the dissociated inorganic matter and in a higher cosmological order. After all, can we really experience bliss in the presence of God, if our individuality has been completely dissolved? Displacement means that direct satisfaction was rendered impossible, and if displacement occurs necessarily, then the complete satisfaction of our drives has been rendered impossible as well. In short, we will never be fully satisfied. We might go as far as to say that displacement is the central term of Freudian theory.

We can see this clearly in the case of Eros. The higher form of Eros, its displaced repetition, is the activity of loving, a giving kind of love. Eros reaches its higher form where it becomes an activity and the stream is continued by neutralising the death drive of another object, while the object loves us back and neutralises our self-destructive tendencies. Due to psychoanalysis, we become aware of the different displacements that we have conducted in our lives, but this whole process is not about becoming an authentic being that has overcome all displacements.


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  5. Psychoanalysis is rather about correcting displacements that have gone awry , that cost an unnecessary amount of energy and cause displeasure like the neurotic symptom. Does Thanatos also develop into a higher form through displacement?