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Freudian Hauntings in Literature and Art

Robert Rowland Smith

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Robert Rowland Smith takes Freud's work on the death-drive and compares it with other philosophies of death - Pascal, Heidegger and Derrida in particular. He also applies it in a new way to literature and art - to Shakespeare, Rothko and Katharina Fritsch, among others. He asks whether artworks are dead or alive, if artistic creativity isn't actually a form of destruction, and whether our ability to be seduced by fine words means we don't put our selves at risk of death.

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Note on the Text
List of Illustrations
1. Memento Mori
2. The Death Drive Does Not Think
3. A Subject Is Being Beaten
4. White Over Red
5. Literature - Repeat Nothing
6. A Harmless Suggestion
7. The Rest of Radioactive Light
Post Script - Approaching Death

About the Author

A former Prize Fellow of All Souls College, Robert Rowland Smith has written widely on philosophy, psychoanalysis and literature, including Derrida and Autobiography. He is a founding editor of the award-winning journal, Angelaki and an original member of the Forum for European Philosophy. Now independent, he also writes non-fiction that applies philosophy to everyday life. His latest book is Breakfast with Socrates: The Philosophy of Everyday Life (Profile Books, 2009).


The death-drive has haunted psychoanalytic theory since its first appearance in Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Rowland Smith brings new life to this grim hypothesis, tracing the rhetorical adventures of the death-drive through Freud's works and those of his defenders and adversaries. Sinuously argued and vividly expressed, Death-Drive will appeal both to beginners and to seasoned readers of psychoanalysis and literature. Rarely has death been discussed with such vitality
- Maud Ellmann, Donald and Marilyn Keough Professor of Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame
This is a rich and fascinating work. Smith provides a lucid, probing and astute overview of the death drive in Freud, but also leads the reader into strange and compelling new terrain, exploring the notion that works of art have 'an unconscious of their own'. This is an important new contribution to a topic that remains controversial in psychoanalysis and culture more generally.
- Nicholas Royle, University of Sussex

[A] highly original, contemplative and inventive work that specifically examines Freud’s theory of the ‘death-drive’, but places it in relation to other theories and philosophical systems that also look to engage with ‘death’.

- Graeme Pedlingham, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, vol 20, no 1, 2012

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