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  • Hate as a Passion of Being
  • Massimo Recalcati (bio)
    Translated by Ramsey McGlazer

Hatred has never been put in its proper place.

Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX: Encore

1. Freud’s Genealogy of Hate

“Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” distills Freud’s theory of the genealogy of hate. Here hate does not appear merely as one possible destination of the drives. On the contrary, when, like Plato in his recounting of Aristophanes’ myth of Eros, Freud undertakes to account for the “origins” of the subject through a sort of genesis myth, he assigns hate a fundamental role.

The first phase of Freud’s myth—like that of Plato’s myth of the androgyne, which Freud himself will recall explicitly in Beyond the Pleasure Principle—is one of indifference, in which the subject is a closed One, indifferent to the external world. (It is not by chance that images of cells, shells, and autotrophism, or self-nourishment, recur so frequently in Freud’s work, pointing to the originarily autistic condition of the subject.)1 This phase is characterized by a sort of substantial solipsism, one that seems to exclude a priori every trace of the Other. The subject thus first emerges as a closed One for whom, in this first phase, the object has no exteriority. [End Page 151] Freud defines the undifferentiated and indifferent status of the subject in this phase using the expression “original reality-ego.” This “original reality-ego” should not be confused with the “final reality-ego,” which is secondary with respect to the “original” and which anticipates the instatement of the reality principle as articulating the difference between the internal and the external.2

How, then, in the Freudian myth, does the original reality-ego function? It is indifferent to the external world, Freud explains; its activity is limited to an autotrophism that excludes the “outside.” But the self-sufficiency of the psychic apparatus is shown to be, in fact, a pure abstraction, since the original reality-ego soon encounters alterity, both in the form of internal stimuli that it cannot evade and in the form of unpleasant external stimuli against which it can never completely protect itself. A quota of excitation thus structurally disturbs the apparatus’s own tendency toward inertia. This irreducible quota of excitation, which cannot be cast off and which Freud conceives of as a kind of energy, will gradually acquire an ethical valence, as we will see. It will come to mark the place of an alterity that inhabits and limits the subject by means of a division of its being.

The original reality-ego seems to be guided by the pleasure principle (Lustprinzip) in its most rudimentary version; it seeks to incorporate that which gives pleasure and to expel that which becomes a source of unpleasure, to align the internal with pleasure and the external with unpleasure. But, as has already been suggested, this movement of incorporation and expulsion encounters two insuperable difficulties. The first has to do with the fact that not everything that is unpleasurable can be expelled, evacuated, or separated from the subject. There are, in fact, unpleasurable stimuli with endogenous sources, unpleasurable stimuli that cannot be exteriorized completely. The reality-ego’s urge to metabolize the pleasurable and expel the unpleasurable is thus at odds with the insuppressible existence of an unpleasurable remainder whose source is the subject’s own body. This negative internal remainder corresponds to an external remainder, which brings us to the second difficulty that overwhelms the ego, which soon becomes a pleasure-ego: the difficulty presented by unpleasurable external [End Page 152] stimuli in the face of which the subject is impotent, and over which the subject cannot possibility exercise control. This is the human condition of Hilflosigkeit (helplessness), the structural defenselessness resulting from the injured constitution of the being that enters the world in a state of deracination, primordial dispossession, and discontinuity. The subject is traversed by an otherness that the psychic apparatus cannot metabolize, and this otherness ousts the subject from all supposed ontological self-sufficiency.

These two difficulties, then, shape the second phase of the Freudian myth, in which the original reality-ego completes its first metamorphosis and emerges as the...


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