[As per usual, all images from a video-album I made about Madoka and the death drive.]
In Lacan and Deleuze, Zupančič explores the death drive to reveal striking similarities between these thinkers’ understandings of repetition, difference and lack. He argues that lack ultimately structures being for both Lacan and Deleuze.
Zupančič begins by defining two broad theories of the death drive. Whilst both view the death drive as a compulsion to repeat traumatic events, one is a psychological explanation, and the other, a transcendental one (163, 166). The psychological explanation posits that repetition acts in lieu of remembering a traumatic experience; that it originates from repression, the minimisation of pain by the pleasure principle (164). Compulsion allows us to cope with what we cannot face. The transcendental explanation posits that the trauma at the origin of repetition is not something experienced consciously, but is rather, a trauma before and beyond experience, that constitutes our ability to experience in the first place (164, 171). Anxiety comes to replace repression, a mechanism that is “beyond the pleasure principle” (165).
This transcendental explanation flips Freud on his head by positing the death drive as prior to the pleasure principle (166). Zupančič argues that both Lacan and Deleuze converge in viewing the death drive as an endless repetition of a state of tension—a repetition arising from the death drive’s inability to bind the unbindable excess prior to, and constitutive of, consciousness (165-166, 171). In and through repetition, the excess arises again, leading to a mobilisation of anxiety which is, of course, never completely resolved (167).
Zupančič then moves to the concept of difference and how it relates to repetition. For Deleuze, repetition is not identical, but rather, differentiating, for every repetition produces difference (which allows us to distinguish one repeat from another) (167). Form cannot be considered outside of repetition, as some instantiation of an transcendent essence, for only through (material) difference does (abstract) essence arise. In addition, repetition is greater than the forms it produces, for repetition both produces difference and Difference, the mechanism which differentiates repeated (different) forms apart (167-168, 172-173). [There is difference and that which differentiates.] There is no original thing through which form is produced in the image of, and then subsequently compared to. Rather, it is pure Difference, and thus, negativity that constitutes thingness into being (as multiple different forms at once).
Zupančič turns to Lacan’s re-envisioning of Freud. While Lacan maintains Freud’s belief that the infant is polymorphously perverse, this fragmented multiplicity of partial drives (which operate through the register of the Symbolic) is ultimately the result of a singular pulsating negativity (the death drive operating through the register of the Real) (168). As with Deleuze (1994, 38, as cited in Zupančič 2017, 168), “individuating difference precedes . . . individual differences.” Drawing on set theory, Lacan likens the death drive to the empty set—a nothingness contained in the One, which is not reducible to the One, and iterates the One with every repetition; or as Zupančič clarifies through Deleuze: being is not One; being is Difference, which is One (169-170). All multiplicities arise out of One, but a One that contains nothing, and therefore, acts as pure Difference.
Zupančič ends with a critique of Deleuze through Lacan’s concept of subjectivation. While Zupančič (166) does not disagree with Deleuze’s argument that every repetition is an affirmation of life he does not consider affirmation-in-itself to be revolutionary, and sees repetition for its own sake as indifferent to emancipation as it is to repression (176). For Lacan, without an encounter with the Real through which Being can be thought, the symptom that drives compulsion cannot be addressed; a new signifier is necessary for a new subjectivation (175-177).