- Hardcover: 366 pages
- Publisher: Wesleyan; 2nd Revised edition edition (1 December 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0819551481
- ISBN-13: 978-0819551481
- Package Dimensions: 21.1 x 14 x 3.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
Life Against Death: Psychoanalytical Meaning of History Hardcover – Import, Dec 1985
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The basic theme is this : the human animal, by dint of its deep-rooted guilt, refuses to live for itself and in itself, and continues churning out more and more history ; with which it then proceeds to aggravate further the guilt of the race. The author (unlike, say, Fromm) does not fall into the trap of opposing the 'noble savage' to the neurotic workaholic ; he shows how the same guilt-complex operated in primitive societies and was unleashed in different ways to our modern methods. To demonstrate this, the author calls on a host of scholars from various fields, including archaeology, anthropology, mysticism, economics, mythology, and (of course), psychoanalysis.
It is this emphasis on the continuity of human neurosis across the span of time (and thus, the prevalent 'dead weight of the past on the brains of the living') that gives the book its aura of truly entering into unknown waters. For, if the author's diagnosis is correct, then we have always been neurotic. Thus, the human animal has never really lived. It has substituted a life for itself, a living in eternity, for a living on behalf of 'history'.
I especially enjoyed the latter section of the book, where the author shows the hidden neurotic basis of our work culture, and specifically, our relation to money. This is not simply a standard Marxist criticism along the lines of 'false consciousness' (though the author has obviously read good ol' Karl), but is rather, a deeper analysis of the hidden existential guilt that runs our lives, that acts as a subterranean spiritual force that drives us to atone for our existence. The author brilliantly shows how primitive cultures felt this same guilt and sought to extirpate it through group practices such as shamanism, sacrifice, carefully timed bursts of energy etc. In the modern era, man continues to sacrifice himself, to atone for his guilt at being himself. The author shows that the only difference between age-old conceptions of human guilt, and the modern, unspoken feeling of guilt, simply lies in the fact that the former had a coalescing mechanism (forefathers, gods, etc) that did a decent job of purging the adherents of that culture ; in the latter, there is simply no such coalescing structure, making for a vague amorphous feeling of unease, that perfectly fits the vague and amorphous nature of the word 'progress' itself.
The author's analysis of a connection between the complex of anality and money was also intriguing, and maliciously entertaining. Gold and s*** are the two metaphorical opposites, after all.
The chapter on Swift may not be of much interest to those who do not have some knowledge of literary theory, or those who have not read the man in his own words (a category into which I fall into).
As mentioned, the book truly heads into uncharted territory ; the last section of the book offers up the author's prescription for undoing the almost-impossibly deep-rooted repression that afflicts the entire human race ; a case of fashioning the shiny noose that with which we hang ourselves. The author steps beyond the Marxist prescription of demolishing the base (with its' assumption that the superstructure will follow), as well as the traditional Freudian understanding of neurosis as an inescapable part of being human. He offers a deeply existential and spiritual approach to undoing repression, by advocating a new culture (in the original sense of the term), that will allow the human animal to live in eternity, rather than foolishly creating more and more history by the avenue of its own self-denial.
In conclusion, this is a dense examination that was undoubtedly written for an educated audience. A decent knowledge of Freud is de rigeur, if only to see where the author is coming from and where he takes that thinker. Students of the Frankfurt School, as well as the broader field of critical theory, should enjoy this hefty tome, as well as anyone committed to a rethinking of what it means to be a human being.
The language is accessible however, there are no deeper or hidden themes running through the book, what you see is what you get. Luckily I was reading it on kindle to have access to the dictionary on all the new words that I needed to understand.
A DEEP Analise and pragmatic articulation of Freud's totality, in all his insight and shortcomings. A dialectical approach into history and its making as it stands today.