Life and Death in Freud and Heidegger

By Havi Carel | Go to book overview

Four

Being towards Death

This chapter and the next present a reading of Heidegger's being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode) and make two general claims. The first is that being-towardsdeath places death and finitude as structuring components within existence, thus breaking with the traditional view of life and death as mutually exclusive. Heidegger's notion of being-towards-death is a way of conceptualising life and death, possibility and limitation, as intimately linked. Moreover, they are linked in a specific way: death influences life as a limit whose presence in life must constantly be taken into account, even within the context of everyday activities and projects.

This view is similar to Freud's in many ways. For both thinkers death is an active force in life, not merely an external boundary, and both saw a need to rethink existence as significantly influenced by this metaphysical picture. If death shapes every living moment and affects the ways in which we think about temporality, possibility, action and decision, existence itself must be reformulated as radically structured by its limits. This is not only an epistemic claim about the influence awareness of our mortality has on the way we live, but an ontological claim about our structure. Heidegger calls this structure Dasein, and his analysis of Dasein as finite is the centre of this and the following chapter.

It is important to note at the outset that Heidegger's concept of death is different from the ordinary concept. As Taylor Carman points out, “An enormous amount of confusion has resulted from the fact that by 'death' Heidegger does not mean quite what is commonly meant by the word. But neither is his existential conception of death wholly alien to our ordinary understanding” (2003, p.276). The main task of this chapter is to work out the meaning of Heidegger's concept and thus clarify numerous misunderstandings and show the irrelevance of the resulting criticisms that have been directed at it.

Although the issue of finitude is expressed as a metaphysical matter, it is obvious that our attitudes towards death are not purely theoretical and abstract. The problem of death is informed by two other factors. The first is the highly personal nature of death–death always belongs to a specific Dasein, it “lays claim to it as an individual Dasein” (BT 308; SZ 263). So although someone could sacrifice their life for someone else and 'die for them', that would only be a postponement. Strictly speaking, “no one can take the Other's dying away from him” (BT 284; SZ 240). In this sense, death individuates Dasein, emphasising its uniqueness and its radically individual nature.

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Life and Death in Freud and Heidegger
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies 6 ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The Metaphysics of the Death Drive 1
  • One - Freud's Drive Theory 3
  • Two - The Development of the Death Drive 13
  • Three - Collapse of the Dualistic View 31
  • Part II - Give to Each His Own Death 63
  • Four - Being Towards Death 65
  • Five - Towards a Relational Understanding of Mortality 93
  • Part III - Encounters Between Freud and Heidegger 113
  • Six - Death Structuring Existence 115
  • Seven - The Ethics of Death 125
  • Eight - Death of Another 147
  • Nine - Death and Moods 161
  • Ten - Death and the Unconscious 171
  • Conclusion 185
  • About the Author 191
  • Bibliography 193
  • Index 213
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