Freud, heartbreaking Freud

“The loss of love and the failure that this represents leaves an enduring legacy of diminished self-feeling amounting to a narcissistic scar; in my experience, as also corroborated by the findings of Marcinowski (1918), this contributes more than any other factor to the ‘feeling of inferiority’ so common in neurotics.” –Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920 (Trans. Reddick 2003)

That sentence, specifically the clause “in my experience,” ushered by under the cloak of “findings” and a citation, is to me the most poignant moment in his work.

“It would contradict the conservative nature of drives if the goal of life were to achieve a state never previously attained to. Rather, it must aspire to an old state, a primordial state from which it once departed, and to which vial all the circuitous byways of development it strives to return. If we may reasonably suppose, on the basis of all our experience without exception, that every living thing dies — reverts to the inanimate — for intrinsic reasons, then we can only say that the goal of all life is death, or to express it retrospectively: the inanimate existed before the animate.

At some point or other, the attributes of life were aroused in non-living matter by the operation upon it of a force that we are still quite incapable of imagining. Perhaps it was a process similar in essence to the one that later, at a certain level of living matter, gave rise to consciousness. The tension generated at that point in previously inanimate matter sought to achieve equilibrium; thus the first drive came into existence: the drive to return to the inanimate. At that stage death was still easy for living matter; the course of life that had to be gone through was probably short, its direction determined by the newly created organism’s chemical structure. In this way living matter may have experienced a long period of continual re-creation and easy death, until decisive external factors changed in such a way that they compelled still-surviving matter to take ever greater diversions from its original course of life and ever more complex detours in achieving its death-goal. These detours on the path to death, all faithfully preserved by the conservative drives, may well be what gives us our present picture of the phenomena of life. If one holds fast to the notion that the drives are exclusively conservative in nature, one cannot arrive at any other logical postulates concerning the origin and goal of life.

“These conclusions may seem disturbing, but so too is the picture that emerges in respect of the great groups of drives that we posit behind the vital phenomena of organisms. The theory that there are drives directed at self-preservation, drives that we ascribe to all living beings, stands in striking opposition to the hypothesis that the entire life of the drives serves to procure death. Considered in this light, the theoretical significance of the drives concerned with self-preservation, self-assertion and dominance diminishes greatly. They are indeed ‘partial’ drives, charged with the task of safe-guarding the organism’s own particular path to death and barring all possible means of return to the inorganic other than those already immanent; but the baffling notion of the organism striving to endure in defiance of the entire world — a notion incapable of being fitted into any sensible nexus — simply evaporates. The fact that remains is that the organism wants only to die in its own particular way; and so these guardians of life, too, were originally myrmidons of death. – Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920 (trans Reddick 2003)

To die for.