Against death's representability freudand the question of death's psychic presence

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What has been described as the psychoanalytic neglect and rejection of death is grounded in a set of claims made by Freud against the possible representation of death. Death is held to be absent from unconscious thought because death is negative, abstract, and involves time, because there is neither an instinctual correlative for it, nor a past precedent. In addition, when we ponder death, we discover that we are still there as spectators. These arguments have played a cardinal role in shaping analytic approaches to death, and it is crucial therefore to probe their value and function. Upon examination, some of these arguments turn out to be simply unconvincing. More importantly, whether convincing or not, Freud applied analytic principles to death much more eagerly and strictly than to other issues. These arguments have also not been sufficiently reevaluated with the advancement and development of psychoanalytic theory. Plausible solutions, even if partial, have been available, but not used. These considerations together give the impression that Freud's arguments are more of a way to justify a preexisting position. This paper also questions whether the idea of an isolated representation is indeed a suitable way to think about death's work and suggests a preliminary framework for conceptualizing death's psychic presence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-357
Number of pages26
JournalPsychoanalytic Study of the Child
StatePublished - 2011


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