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Beyond the Pleasure PrincipleReview - Beyond the Pleasure Principle
by Sigmund Freud
Broadview Press, 2011
Review by Michael Larson
Mar 13th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 11)

Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle introduces us to the theory of repetition compulsion and the death drive. Though a relatively short work it is regarded as notoriously difficult. The text has been both a magnet for critique and a point of inspiration for psychoanalysts and philosophers alike. It is Freud at his most speculative and philosophical, even as he coyly disavows any debt to philosophy. This edition of the text allows us to explore in greater detail the roots of the work while exploring the various directions psychoanalysis and continental philosophy have taken in responding to Freud's text. The edition boasts a new translation by Gregory C. Richter and is fitted out with a wide array of supplemental texts in the appendices. Editor Todd Dufresne wants this edition to stand as a call to think "about psychoanalysis as a cross-discipline, about the 'theory of psychoanalysis,' about its complex relationship with philosophy" (28) and the efforts of Continental thinkers to explore their own interpretive approaches in the intellectual terrain Freud laid out.

The supplemental material is indeed abundant.  In addition to a chronology on Freud's life and publications, an editor's introduction and translator's preface, there are 2 appendices to the text which bring the page count to nearly 400 (BPP itself takes up just around 1/8 of the space here).

Appendix A features other works by Freud which connect with the themes of BPP amounting to 38 pages of supplemental text starting with the period in which BPP was in preparation.  The appendix features excerpts from "The Uncanny," The Ego and the Id, "The Economic Problem of Masochism," "A Note about the 'Mystic Writing Pad," Civilization and Its Discontents and the 1937 essay "Analysis Terminable and Interminable."  Appendix B extends over 230 pages and features 25 entries, the first 4 of which are reference points for Freud (Empedocles, Plato, Shopenhauer, Nietzsche) the rest are responses to Freud beginning with Walter Benjamin in 1939. The texts included reveal general trends in reading and re-interpreting Freud within Psychoanalysis (Klein, Fromm, Lacan, Laplanche), with a variety of responses to Freud's metapsychology and the theory of the death drive.

Amongst the philosophical excerpts included here are 2 entries from Jacques Derrida, one of which is a fascinating examination of the performative aspect of Freud's writing (from Derrida's own difficult work The Post Card). Derrida's work treats "pure pleasure and pure reality" as "ideal limits... fictions." Between these ideal points is a play of différance. There are also two entries from Gilles Deleuze, one from his collaboration with rebel psychoanalyst Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, but I found even more interesting the extended excerpt from Deleuze's 1967 work on Masochism. Deleuze takes up from Freud's remarks on masochism in BPP. Deleuze highlights that what Freud is concerned with in BPP is not the exceptions to the pleasure principle, but an excess which transcends the principle. It is a question of foundations and "the 'ground-less' from which the ground itself emerged." (241) Deleuze's analysis of perversion in sadism and masochism addresses the implementation of "pain" as an act of grounding, which in and of itself is not significant. He writes, "Eros is desexualized and humiliated for the sake of a resexualized Thanatos. In sadism and masochism there is no mysterious link between pain and pleasure; the mystery lies in the desexualization process which consolidates repetition at the opposite pole to pleasure... pain should be regarded as an effect only." (247) The last word in this edition is given to Slavoj Žižek who contends that the  "Freudian death drive has nothing whatsoever to do with the craving for self-annihilation... it is, on the contrary, ... eternal life itself... an uncanny excess of life, for an 'undead' urge which persists beyond the (biological) cycle of life and death, of generation and corruption. The ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis is that human life is never 'just life': humans are not simply alive, they are possessed by the strange drive to enjoy life in excess, passionately attached to a surplus which sticks out and derails the ordinary run of things." (375) 

I have highlighted the above points for they get to the heart of how Freud's work opens up psychoanalysis to its own un-grounding. The territory revealed is genuinely ontological. Ultimately, psychoanalysis cannot from this point do away with metapsychology. The collection of writings gathered here cover a great breadth and demonstrate quite clearly the importance of the ideas proposed in Freud's Beyond.

Finally, I should note that  have found Richter's translation to be quite readable, perhaps as much as can be expected given BPP's near universally accepted status as a "difficult" text. Any difficulties one encounters here are likely on the side of following the thread of Freud's thought (particularly in the biologic connections that Freud draws heavily upon). The translator's praface offers much detail on key terminological choices and particular translations which Richter has decided to employ from past translations and comments on certain issues of concern with the "Standard Edition" translations.

© 2012 Michael Larson

 Michael Larson, M.A. Instructor at Point Park University, Pittsburgh, PA. Primary interests: Continental philosophy, Foucault, Deconstruction, Social and Political thought, Modern and Contemporary art.


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