Todestrieb und Masochismus : 8th June 1935 (Vienna) : Eduardo Weiss

by Julia Evans on June 8, 1935

Lecture given at the “Wiener Psychoanalytischen Vereinigung”, the Magyarországi Pszichoanalitikai Egyesület, the Società Psicoanalitica Italiana and the Psychoanalytická skupina v Č. S. R., at Pentecost (June 8th to 10th) 1935 in Vienna organized four-country conference.

Cited in Grant, I.F. (1937). Sexuality. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 18:65  

(This is all the text from this reference) : The subject is approached from three points of view. (1) The arguments for and against a death instinct. (2) The limits of the pleasure/pain principle. (3) The definition of sadism and masochism. The energy, which expresses itself in those phenomena which led Freud to postulate the death instinct, should be called destrudo. Destrudo, though it may work destructively, is necessary to the preservation of life, its function being to make the organism aware of danger. 

Published Imago, 21(4):393-412, 1935

Available in German at  /authors by date or authors a-z

The final paragraphs translated by Google-translate 

p412  With this assumption, the results from Käthe Misch’s investigations can be interpreted in a more consistent way. The initial sympathetic excitation originates from the destrudo processes that are also excited, the final parasympathetic excitation, which can be prevented by the destrudo, corresponds to a victory of the libido over the destructive processes. It corresponds perfectly to the way in which the destrudo works, that its discharge creates feelings of unpleasantness and fear.


In conclusion, I would like to say that the existence of the death instinct is probable, but not scientifically proven. On the other hand, that of the destrudo is ensured: it is anything but harmless energy, which can also have devastating effects, but which on the other hand corresponds to an indispensable function for asserting the self. Masochism does not coincide with destrudo, but it presupposes its existence.

Even if the existence of the death instinct has not been proven, we are deeply moved by Freud’s description of the course of life; they could be summarized as follows:

The death instinct causes the individual to age and die. In this way the germplasm, the representative of eros, detaches itself from it, in order to begin a new path of life under favorable conditions and to follow a prescribed path as a result of the compulsion to repeat. The germplasm leaves the individual because it rebels against the death instinct, and thereby achieves a triumph that a new individual is born. And so the titanic struggle between the life instinct and the death instinct continues.

Use of ‘Destrudo’ by Jacques Lacan in Seminar IV : 27th February 1957

See Seminar IV : The Object Relation & Freudian Structures 1956-1957 : begins 21st November 1956 : Jacques Lacan or here 

Para 19 to 20 :  It would be pure and simple sleight of hand if I were to tell you that by this fact it becomes a symbol, or nearly, but what takes on accent and symbolic value is the activity which puts this object in the child’s possession. It is the child’s mode of apprehension. And thus, orality becomes not only what it is – namely, an instinctual mode of hunger, carrying a libido, preserving one’s own body, which is what Freud is asking himself about. What is this libido: the libido of preservation, or sexual libido?

Of course, it is the latter in itself; it is even the latter that involves ‘destrudo’, but it is precisely because it became involved in this dialectic of substitution of satisfaction in the face of the demand of love, that it is an eroticised activity in the first place: libido in the strict sense, a sexual libido.


In this paper, Weiss introduces the term ‘destrudo’. This term is rarely used in the 21st century.  

[From ] Destrudo is the opposite of libido—the urge to create, an energy that arises from the Eros (or “life”) drive—and is the urge to destroy arising from Thanatos (“death”), and thus an aspect of what Sigmund Freud termed “the aggressive instincts, whose aim is destruction”.[Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis (London 1991), p. 136]

Weiss related aggression/destrudo to secondary narcissism, something generally only described in terms of the libido turning towards the self.

…  As Freud wryly commented in 1930, “The assumption of the existence of an instinct of death or destruction has met with resistance even in analytic circles”.[p310 of Civilization and its Discontents: 1929: Sigmund Freud: SE XXI : available at : See  here] Indeed, Ernest Jones would comment of Beyond the Pleasure Principle that the book not only “displayed a boldness of speculation that was unique in all his writings” but was “further noteworthy in being the only one of Freud’s which has received little acceptance on the part of his followers”.[p505 of Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (London, 1964)] …

… Melanie Klein and her immediate followers considered that “the infant is exposed from birth to the anxiety stirred up by the inborn polarity of instincts—the immediate conflict between the life instinct and the death instinct”; [Hanna Segal, Introduction to the work of Melanie Klein (London, 1964), p. 12] and Kleinians indeed built much of their theory of early childhood around the outward deflection of the latter. “This deflection of the death instinct, described by Freud, in Melanie Klein’s view consists partly of a projection, partly of the conversion of the death instinct into aggression”.[ibid]

French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, for his part, castigated the “refusal to accept this culminating point of Freud’s doctrine … by those who conduct their analysis on the basis of a conception of the ego … that death instinct whose enigma Freud propounded for us at the height of his experience”.[p101 of Alan Sheridan’s translation, see The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan  or here] Characteristically, he stressed the linguistic aspects of the death drive: “the symbol is substituted for death in order to take possession of the first swelling of life …. [p124 of Alan Sheridan’s translation, see The Freudian Thing or the Meaning of the Return to Freud in Psychoanalysis : (Vienna) 7th November 1955 : Jacques Lacan or here ]There is therefore no further need to have recourse to the outworn notion of primordial masochism in order to understand the reason for the repetitive games in … his Fort! and in his Da!.”[p103 of Alan Sheridan’s translation, see The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis (Rome) : 26th September 1953 : Jacques Lacan  or here ]


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Julia Evans   

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London & Sandwich in Kent


Further posts:

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