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Psychoanalysis, thermodynamics and the matter of scarcity: A genealogy of Freud’s death drive hypothesis
  • Arthur Massot
Arthur Massot

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In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud introduced the death drive hypothesis, according to which “the aim of all life is death”. I trace the genealogy of this hypothesis in order to understand it as a moment in the history of modern Western societies. First, I present Freud’s metapsychology, and in particular its “economic” dimension, the death drive being central to this dimension. Secondly, I retrace the history of the concept of energy and of the formulation of the laws of thermodynamics in the nineteenth century. Energetics and thermodynamics are shown to have been important to the Freudian economic dimension. Further, I show that for nineteenth-century scientists, the concern for energy reflected a socio-economic preoccupation with the matter of scarcity. Lastly, I argue that Freud’s relationship to energy, as expressed in the death drive hypothesis, also reflected a certain relationship of Western countries to scarcity in the era of the second industrial revolution.
Aug 2022Published in Theory & Psychology volume 32 issue 4 on pages 571-589. 10.1177/09593543221081834