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  • On the Other Side of the Drive for PowerTranscendental Violence and Its Deconstruction
  • Francesco Vitale (bio)

I would like to comebackto a theme that i have already treated in Biodeconstruction: Jacques Derrida and the Life Sciences, that is, to Derrida's definition of a drive for power at the end of To Speculate-On Freud, a text that comes from the seminar La vie la mort, given in 1975-76 and published, finally, in April 2019. My first aim is to make more clear the distance that Derrida takes from Freud, in particular from Freud's hypothesis of the death drive as the irreducible mover of the living beings and consequently of the psychic life, and more precisely about what, according to Freud, follows from this hypothesis—that is, an original cruelty that would condition the human life, individual and collective. On the way, I'm going to return to my reading of To Speculate-On Freud, by deepening it, at least [End Page 25] in some passages that now, according to this particular perspective, seem to me to be unsatisfactory.

The Pleasure Principle and Its Telos

In To Speculate-On Freud, Derrida submits Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle to a very close reading, sometimes commenting on it word by word; it is a micrological analysis in which nothing is taken for granted, even the way in which Freud tries to establish the specific statute of psychoanalysis with regard to the sciences and philosophy to which he constantly refers throughout the text. To further complicate things, Derrida even pretends to apply to Freud's more or less conscious motives in writing the text the same protocol of analysis elaborated by Freud to interpret the motives of psychic life.1

Right from the start, Derrida invites us to exercise the utmost vigilance in front of Freud's text and its most accredited interpretations: "Beyond the Pleasure Principle: I will propose a selective, filtrating, discriminating reading. Not without once more going down, according to a pedagogy to which one must not become blindly attached, some too well trodden paths" (Derrida 1987, 261).

In particular, Derrida invites us to pay the greatest attention to a certain form of violence, namely to the rhetoric that orients and structures Beyond the Pleasure Principle: this text, in fact, at least according to Freud's explicit intention, should be a scientific one. It would be a matter of examining a series of hypotheses to face a problem that could threaten the theoretical hold of psychoanalysis itself: the existence of psychic processes independent of the pleasure principle to which psychoanalysis, that is, Freud, has attributed the mastery over all psychic processes. However, according to Derrida, the opening of Beyond the Pleasure Principle already highlights a certain rhetorical violence that orients and structures Freud's enterprise: Freud in fact affirms that neither science nor philosophy have so far been able to provide an exhaustive definition of pleasure and that in fact the latter is "the darkest and most inaccessible region of psychic life" (Freud 1955, 7). This very statement justifies Freud's adoption of an [End Page 26] economic, that is, quantitative, point of view to describe the psychic dynamics of pleasure and unpleasure but in the absence of a qualitative definition of what pleasure is. This is already paradoxical from a scientific or philosophical point of view, as Derrida does not fail to highlight. But the affirmation of the absence of a philosophical or scientific definition of pleasure already seems to be problematic: first of all because Freud limits himself to affirming it without adducing any evidence, but above all because, in the immediately following pages, Freud will turn to the philosopher Fechner to find confirmation of his economic description of the psychic dynamics of pleasure, not to mention the more or less explicit references to Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and especially to Plato, which Derrida will highlight in the course of his reading.

Ultimately, for Derrida, the adoption of this economic point of view and of everything that follows from it in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, that is, everything or almost everything, is the result of a simple "decision" without any adequate...


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