J'accuse? : A critical approach
to Jacques Derrida's Speculation on Freud

Alex Betancourt-Serrano



Jacques Derrida begins his essay on Freud with what sounds as the announcement of a prosecutor.1 It reminds us of those warnings that government officials are so fond of giving. In short we seem to have in front of us a carefully crafted and elaborated version of the well known French indictment J'accuse. It is as if we can hear a voice that says 'you are to be held accountable for the pronouncements that you have made and, be that as it may, if you do not reveal the sources of your speculation you will be find guilty'. Derrida is leading the reader "in the direction of the register of accounts".2 But what are the charges against the beloved psychoanalyst? What does Derrida want to make Freud accountable for? Once we immerse ourselves into this text we find that one of the sources of Derrida's discontent with Freud is the non-acknowledgement of a debt. Freud owes something and not only he does not want to pay his debt but more importantly he does not recognize it. What then does this situation makes of Derrida? How is Derrida positioning himself in front of this situation? It is obvious that he is performing as a debt collector. As we all know, every debt collector works for a collection agency. Therefore, Derrida must be collecting this debt for a particular agency and the question here is, of course, which agency? To answer this all we have to do is see who is the affected party in this issue. Over and over again we are reminded that the affected party here is Nietzsche. Derrida is collecting a debt owed to Nietzsche and the Collection Agency he is working for has to be by default Western philosophy.

This scenario looks quite paradoxical since Derrida has been a fierce critic of what he refers to as logocentrism; that branch of Western philosophy whose assumptions are made under the veil of the "metaphysics of presence". Derrida characterizes logocentrism in a kind of conspiracy theory rhetoric; a rhetoric that has always captured the attention of Anglophone intellectuals. According to the acclaimed French deconstructionist, logocentrism "was organized in order to exclude or to lower (to put outside or below), the body of the written trace as a didactic and technical metaphor, as servile matter or excrement".3 This exclusion of the trace is the form of repression logocentric philosophy employs and according to Derrida, Freudian repression is possible because it is shielded under the umbrella of logocentric repression. Therefore Derrida stands in a paradoxical place. On the one hand his language (presumably) does not entail any logocentric residue; on the other hand he collects a debt for Western philosophy. This is a very interesting standpoint because it is opposed to Freud's stance in various ways. According to Derrida, Freud stands under logocentric repression but, as Freud himself claims, psychoanalysis has very little or nothing to do with philosophy. Derrida, as opposed to Freud, has inherited nothing from logocentric philosophy. However, he is definitely collecting a debt for Western philosophy. As opposed to Freud he has no logocentric descendants. However, Freud has descendants whom he does not want to acknowledge; descendants to whom Freud owes. Thus, Derrida has sent a 'Notice' to Freud, one where he declares to have come to collect Freud's debt. He has become the actor of his own script, the embodiment of a "mode of return of the ghostly inheritance".4

Freud's avoidance of a debt has placed him in a particular position. According to Derrida there are two logics involved here. One is the logic of position and the other the logic of the beyond. The former is a place of suspension where "one has a glimpse of the consequences, or rather the descendants". The latter overflows the logic of positions, and Derrida "would like to make legible the non-positional structure of beyond…"5 Freud then does not want to have a glimpse of Nietzsche, one of his ancestors, he prefers to overflow his ancestors. But why Freud would not want to acknowledge a debt? What reasons would push him to such a dreadful theoretical dishonesty, if we take Derrida's charges at face value? According to Derrida this is a matter of pain and suffering. What Freud cannot bear is the pain caused by the fact that Nietzsche (and also Schopenhauer) did not suffer the pains of psychoanalytic findings.

Derrida argues that for Freud the resemblance of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer's notions to psychoanalysis are the same as counterfeit money: ". . . they are lacking the equivalent of a content proper to psychoanalysis, which alone can guarantee value, usage, and exchange."6 The content that is lacking here is 'pain', a pain that is substance, the pains of "the laborious findings of psychoanalysis."7 However, after his collection notice Derrida takes a 'leap' from his menacing 'Notice' regarding Freud's debt, to discussing what Freud said about childhood and games. The result is a leap from the debt to fort/da. What is fort/da? Let us discuss this briefly.

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle one of Freud's central concerns is fort/da. This was initially the name Freud gave to a game invented by his grandson Ernst.8 The first thing that interested Freud in observing his grandson was that he considered children's play to be "the method of working employed by the mental apparatus in one of its earliest normal activities."9 Children's play as an area of study was not new in psychoanalytic theory. However, Freud was not satisfied with the research done in this area because although these studies were concerned with some of the motives behind children's play, they had not, up to that point, consider the "economic motive, the consideration of the yield of pleasure involved."10 It was in this respect that Freud considered his investigation to be groundbreaking. His grandson's game of fort/da was to provide the departing point for one of Freud's turning points in psychoanalytic theory.

Fort/da consisted in Ernst's habit of throwing a toy away and "as he did this he gave vent to a loud, long-drawn 'o-o-o-o', accompanied by an expression of interest and satisfaction."11 Freud concluded, along with the child's mother, that what the child yielded when throwing the toy away "was not a mere interjection but represented the German word 'fort' ['gone'] ."12 The child was so fond of this game that Freud came to realize that "the only use he made of any toy was to play 'gone' with them."13 Nevertheless, this was not the only game of the kind, as Freud later found out. Freud writes: "One day I made an observation which confirmed my view. The child had a wooden reel with a piece of string tied around it. It never occurred to him to pull it along the floor behind him, for instance, and play at it being a carriage. What he did was to hold the reel by the string and very skillfully throw it over the edge of his curtained cot, so that it disappeared into it, at the same time uttering his expressive 'o-o-o-o'. He then pulled the reel out of the cot again by the string and hailed its reappearance with a joyful 'da' ['there']. This, then, was the complete game- disappearance and return."14

We see that Derrida's first move in his essay is in itself a certain kind of fort/da; disappearance of Nietzsche and the emergence of Freud's grandchild. At the end of his speculation there will be da again; he will be back, but not to the debt but to Nietzsche and to fort/da, or to Nietzsche as fort/da.

However, there are 'bridges' to help Derrida's leaps and the remaining portion of this paper is about the significance of these bridges and what they entail. First we will argue that Nietzsche serves as a bridge because the theoretical dispute about his acknowledgement is a trap that has no solution. The purpose of Nietzsche in Derrida's text is a different one. Second, we will see that between these leaps the issue of the pleasure principle and its beyond becomes the most important issue, and we will discuss it. We will compare Derrida's account of the pleasure principle and the beyond of the pleasure principle with Freud's account. We shall point out the dissonance between the two. We will see why Nietzsche works as a 'bridge' or as Derrida's condition of possibility to take Freud's theory of the death drive and override it with a notion of power that is, ironically, sustained by the "metaphysics of presence". Finally we will see how Freud's account can be given a different and more productive interpretation of fort/da as the compulsion to repeat and of beyond the pleasure principle as the death drive. We will finish by pointing out some important implications that our reading of Freud have for a theory of the subject. Contrary to Derrida's conclusion that Freud's text is about power/presence, we will argue that the importance of this text relies on the theory of a split subject that comes out of it.


Derrida begins with the announcement of the debt. Immediately, without doubt or hesitation, Derrida proclaims a heritage. The descending line runs from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to Freud. However, Freud refuses this inheritance; why? According to Derrida this inheritance is not tolerable for Freud. He cannot tolerate the "scene" of inheritance. This intolerability, as we mentioned earlier, has to do with the "laborious findings of psychoanalysis". Nevertheless, something strikes us right away. The quote Derrida uses to support his claim is ambiguous. We see that the quote refers to two different epochs or times in Freud's life: "Nietzsche, another philosopher whose guesses and intuitions often agree in the most astonishing way with the painfully laborious [muhsamen] findings of psychoanalysis, was for a long time avoided (gemieden) by me on that very account; I was less concerned with the question of priority than with keeping my mind unembarrassed"15

Two things are very important here. One amounts to temporal instances the other to avoidance. Freud is expressing himself in two temporal instances or rather referring to two. In the past he avoided Nietzsche on the account of the "laborious findings". The other temporal stance seems to include both past and present; where in the past priority was not his first concern. The priority must be that of the findings of psychoanalysis as such. Derrida takes the avoidance to be of Nietzsche in specific and philosophy in general. However an important problem presents itself here. The avoidance seems to have at least two possibilities relevant for us. One is the avoidance of reading Nietzsche per se; the other is the avoidance of using his "guesses and intuitions". The latter presupposes the former, but the former does not entail the latter in the temporality of the past. Derrida interprets this passage as saying something like "I read Nietzsche's work in the past and avoided it because I was ashamed of having said something which was already said by Nietzsche. My psychoanalytic discoveries cost me a lot of pain while Nietzsche's speculations were astonishingly similar to my findings and cost him nothing". Nevertheless, the quote can be read differently. It can be read as follows: "Nietzsche is a philosopher and as such he belongs to philosophy as a tradition of speculation. I avoided reading Nietzsche as I avoided reading philosophy in general. My reason was that the findings of psychoanalysis sometimes agreed with some speculations of philosophy. If I were to read philosophy its influence could have turned me away from discovering the functioning of the psychic apparatus by the rigorous methods of science". This reading sounds more in accordance with the positivism aimed at by Freud and stated since The Project. We can point to another instance where Freud talks about this issue. In a letter to Lothar Bickel dated June 28, 1931, Freud says "Lacking talent for philosophy by nature I have made a virtue of necessity"; he had trained himself to "convert the facts that revealed themselves to me" in as "undisguised, unprejudiced, and unprepared a form as possible". As Peter Gay suggests "the study of a philosopher would inevitably enforce an unacceptable predetermined point of view". Thus Freud continues: "Hence I have rejected the study of Nietzsche although- no, because- it was plain that I would find insights in him very similar to psychoanalytic ones"16. Therefore our possibility seems more plausible now. As Peter Gay points out "Freud had read him [Nietzsche] as a young student. . . he hoped, he told his friend Fliess, 'to find the words for much that remains mute in me'. Yet Freud treated Nietzsche's writings as text to be resisted far more than to be studied. . . after reporting the purchase of Nietzsche's work, he immediately added that he had not yet opened them…"17. Freud's attitude towards Nietzsche and philosophy in general responds to the belief in "undisguised, unprejudiced and unprepared" discoveries. The rigor of science, Freud thought, demands the objectivity of an unbiased scientist. He wanted to found his discoveries not with the 'intuitions' or 'guesses' of any philosophy, but with the product of analytic experience. The belief under which Freud grounded his theory and method in The Project was always present throughout his work.

We have presented just two possibilities or perspectives from which one can understand the issue of recognition and avoidance. Nevertheless, our purpose is not to sustain as uncontestable any perspective but on the contrary to express our belief that regarding this matter the theoretical dispute about Nietzsche is open-ended.

Even if we take Derrida to be correct and presume that Freud hides Nietzsche, what happens? Not much, we would have to say, because the issue for Derrida with Nietzsche and Freud has ulterior purposes. Why then is Nietzsche important to Derrida? We will argue that the importance of Nietzsche relies not in him as such, that is as a thinker, but in the role that he plays in Derrida's text as a "bridge". That is to say as a rhetorical device that takes Derrida to the question of the pleasure principle and the beyond of the pleasure principle. Thus our next "step" is to discuss Derrida's portrait of Freud's speculations and see how it stands when compared with Freud's own text.


The scope and method that Derrida embarks upon is admirable. The detailed reading of Freud and Derrida's own speculation on the text and its circumstances achieves an impressive theoretical depth. It is the merits of the text that have caught our attention and at the same time raised a suspicion.

Derrida tells us that he opened Beyond the Pleasure Principle "without any other precaution, as naively as possible". Although naivete has never characterized Derrida's textual readings, we shall begin by trusting his assertion. However, as soon as we take him at face value, a 'legal' move follows immediately. Derrida gives himself "the right to jump over all the methodological or juridical protocols" of the text. This move paradoxically dismisses the self-proclaimed naivete of his reading. Now with caution and patience he begins to go over the text. He discusses the pages almost one by one, going chapter by chapter commenting on the selected details and here the deconstructive enterprise appears on the scene. His commentaries are expressed in the form of a complaint or a betrayed promise. There are no steps forward once the primacy of the pleasure principle has been established. According to Derrida, Freud wrote the first chapter of Beyond the Pleasure Principle and once written the rest of the book is a return of Freud to himself, a compulsion to repeat.

Among the most pervasive complaints is the authority of the pleasure principle. Derrida suspects Freud not because of his assurance and authority on the subject of the workings of the psychic apparatus, but because of "too self-assured, too authoritarian, if not too authorized an assumption concerning the dominating authority of this pleasure principle and the belief…in the constancy of such principle"18. For Derrida this self-assurance creates a suspicion, one that suspends belief. However, it is important to note that the suspicion is Derrida's and not Freud's. Freud does not suspect his belief in the workings of the pleasure principle, but it is Derrida who suspects both the principle as such and Freud as the author of the principle, or rather as the one who elaborates it.

Another complaint is that Freud does not give us a precise definition of pleasure; "the definition of the pleasure principle is mute about pleasure, about its essence and quality".19 To speak of pleasure then is to speak of an experience; of something that both the philosopher and the analyst experience. This "presupposition is as dogmatic…as it is in psychoanalytic theory at present."20 We must admit that the complaint in itself is curious coming from Jacques Derrida; a philosopher whose theoretical and rhetorical moves have always been against the search for essences. Nevertheless, the requirement of an essence in pleasure, although not characteristic of the deconstructive agenda, is in accordance with the scene of this book. However, the speculation continues and another account is required. The mastery of the pleasure principle is undermined by unpleasure, but as Derrida points out, this objection to the mastery of the pleasure principle is not overlooked by Freud. He takes the objection into consideration and clings to the fact that the question of pleasure is characteristic of a tendency. Freud replies to the objection by arguing that the principle is governed by a general tendency and as such this tendency encounters external obstacles. The exception confirms the rule. External obstacles "do sometimes prevent it [the pleasure principle] from coming to its conclusion or from triumphing, but do not put it into question as a principal tendency to pleasure, but on the contrary confirm it as soon as they are considered as obstacles".21 The obstacles are external to the psychic economy. They are imposed by the requirements of reality when the ego as agency interprets the tendency as putting at risk the integrity of the organism. However, the principle is not undermined and its goals are always in the horizon. The reality principle thus comes to the rescue of pleasure. The function of the principle is paradoxical in the sense that it appears to respond to the requirements of reality, but its response is to pleasure instead. Hence, Derrida argues that no opposition exists between the two agencies. "As soon as an authoritarian agency [pleasure principle] submits itself to the works of a secondary or dependant agency [reality principle]…which finds itself in contact with reality…there is no longer any opposition, as is sometimes believed, between the pleasure principle and the reality principle."22 Moreover, Derrida does not only set aside the oppositional logic but he intervenes in the process. His contribution is Differance. Since for him any absoluteness is fictitious, the element of his acclaimed differance enters the scene. According to Derrida, in Freud "pure pleasure and pure reality are ideal limits, which is as much as to say fictions. The one is as destructive and mortal as the other. Between the two the different detour therefore forms the very actuality of the process, of the "psychic" process as a "living" process". Hence we see that out of differance comes the pleasure principle and the reality principle; also that reality and differance are effects of pleasure. Moreover, death is inscribed in differance and reality. Hence, if both are effects of the pleasure principle then the authority of it is not questioned but confirmed. Furthermore, if there is no opposition they are all interchangeable, moments of the same process. Death, differance, reality principle and pleasure principle, if we follow Derrida's logic, are subsumed into one another. For one who at the beginning was looking for definitions this move seems as unprecedented as it is shocking. There are important distinctions regarding the functioning of the psychic apparatus as expressed by psychoanalytic theory that have been overlooked by Derrida. If we believe the conflation of all this processes, paralysis seems imminent since such conflation would put psychical conflict itself into question.

A psychical conflict arises when internal requirements of the psychic apparatus enter into contradiction. Psychical conflicts are for psychoanalysis a constitutive part of the subject and one that pervades all functions and agencies. From conflict between desire and defence, drives, systems and agencies to wishes and their prohibition, conflict is an underlying constant. The neurotic symptom comes to be defined as the result of a compromise between two factors (drives, desires etc) acting as opposed forces. There are two perspectives from which we can apprehend conflict. On the one hand there is a topographical level that encompasses the pleasure and reality principle as discussed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. On the other hand conflict also arises at the level of the economic-dynamic point of view; here the conflict occurs between drives. If we take Derrida's exposition and his conflation of the two principles as an accurate description of its workings, conflict is neutralized in the name of differance. Although we can agree that Freud's 'return to himself' represents death as the true result of life and intrinsic to the operation of the pleasure principle and also that the distinction from the reality principle comes about in terms of delay; we cannot overlook that the delay is the result of a conflict between the requirements of external reality as perceived by the ego and those of internal reality and the drives required by the general tendency under which the psychic apparatus operates.

Derrida takes another step forward in his own speculation. For him, Freud's steps lead nowhere, and that is the rhetorical move of the text. As Alan Bass notes, "Derrida's analysis of the rhetoric of Beyond …,[is] Freud's repeated gesture of taking another step forward that goes nowhere, the rhetoric of the athesis."23 As we mentioned earlier, Derrida argues that after the authority of the pleasure principle has been established, the rest of the chapters of Beyond the Pleasure Principle are just repetitions. They are steps taken forward, but which lead only to the place of its initiation, that is to the repetition of the absolute mastery of the pleasure principle.

The story of fort/da is the story of Freud's return to himself and the story of the pleasure principle that goes back to Freud. In Derrida's words, "it is indeed the story of the PP that he is telling us, a certain episode of its fabulous reign, certainly an important moment of its (his) own genealogy, but still a moment of it(him)self."24 Thus chapter two is not only about repetition, but is repetition itself by Freud in order to protect PP from anything that threatens its authority. According to Derrida, Freud postpones the traumatic neurosis because it threatens the authority of the pleasure principle. Moreover, Derrida's statements suggest that the motive of Freud's enterprise is a narcissistic one. Derrida argues that Freud's writing now takes an autobiographical turn; it takes on the initiation of the psychoanalytical movement. Everything from Freud is about himself. The fort/da becomes a double play. It is a question of his descendant telling him what to write, a question of Freud returning to himself through his grandson. All of this at the same time "posits and deposits simultaneously, in the same movement, the psychoanalytic movement".25 Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Derrida declares, is an autobiographical speculation constituting Freud's legacy and the institution of the psychoanalytic movement. Once again another suspicion is raised. As we have seen every time something is suspected, automatically a belief is suspended. This time Derrida suspects Freud because he has explained the game. Freud says "This, then was the complete game". According to Derrida the mere pronouncement deprives the speaker of truthfulness. If Freud said that that was the complete game, that is supposed to mean that that was not the complete game. If it was completed, Derrida thinks, then it was unnecessary to state its completeness.

"The serious play of the fort/da couples absence and presence in the re —of returning [revenir]."26 This statement is both perceptive and supplementary. It is perceptive because it acknowledges that 'the game' is not only Ernst's but also Freud's. Freud writes about the game and plays it while writing. It is supplementary because the scene of its writing encompasses the writing itself. The object of the description becomes the written subject. When Freud writes what he describes and describes what he writes, he is writing and describing himself in the logic of the fort/da. Derrida comments brilliantly on this scene, but he misses something. He misses himself in his own inscription, in the scene of his writing about the scene of Freud and the grandson. He talks about Freud's fatherhood, about Ernst's childhood and about fort/da as the "specularity" of Freud, Ernst, psychoanalysis and returning. Derrida is also inscribed in the game of absence/ presence as the deconstructive speculator of the conditions of the return. He understands that "the classical institution of a science should have been able to do without the Freuds' name" and precisely for this reason the speculator does not feel the need for the inscription of his name when writing the scene. Deconstruction does not need Derrida's name for the event of its institution. However, as soon as he writes the inscription takes place. Derrida, more than anyone else, knows this and perhaps that is why he writes about it. He writes about fort/da and he speculates about the writing of fort/da. An interesting comment can tell us something else about Derrida's own speculation. He states that "all speculation…implies the terrifying possibility of this usteron proteron of the generations"27. Thus, his own speculation carries the terrifying possibility of a fallacious argument. If Freud writes for the survival of psychoanalysis, "survival on the condition of his name"28, Derrida necessarily writes for the survival of the survival. He must write to register his step; to leave his 'footprint' in the "auto-bio-thanato-hetero-graphic scene of writing"29.

Derrida brings up a new perspective on the pleasure principle and to the compulsion to repeat. The child and the adult both respond to the pleasure principle and to the compulsion to repeat. The child finds enjoyment in his reflection in the mirror and in the fort of his father, thus he brings back in the da his relation to the mother. For the child the experience is taking place at the conscious level. He is joyful, we might say, in the actuality of his oedipal experience. The adult enjoys the compulsion and surrenders to the pleasure principle in a different way. His time has passed, consciously speaking, and the beyond of the pleasure principle is a return to himself as a child. The blissful state of his childhood is experienced reinventing a scene through the transferential relation. The beyond takes him back to the scene of inheritance where everything began.

Nevertheless, for Freud the beyond is death. Derrida knows this and claims that this is not just any death but the proper death. He argues that "the component drives are destined to insure that the organism dies of its own death, that it follows its own, proper path toward death"30. This move debunks the pleasure principle of its mastery and places the law of the proper in its place. Now the proper is a drive that serves to secure the right path of the organism toward death. However this is not the end.

The end comes when Derrida subsumes all the operations of the psychic apparatus to a new and all pervasive drive for power. "There is a society of drives, whether or not they are communally possible…a component drive must come to dominate the entirety of the body driven, and must subject the body to its regime…"31. Thus according to Derrida the drive for power becomes the origin of everything else and the beyond of the pleasure principle is this drive. Power becomes a transcendental function under which the whole psychic economy operates. Thus, power is "the drive of the drive" and the "will to power". It is not until now that one realizes why Derrida brought up Nietzsche in the first place. The debt loses its overstated relevance and we see Nietzsche as the bridge. Nietzsche's role was to get us to the drive of the drive and to give the psychic life and psychoanalysis a will to power. However, if we consider Freud's text in all its complexity a different picture can be drawn.


Freud opens his discussion with a deceptively simple assertion. He states that the course of mental activity is set by an unpleasurable tension. We ask ourselves immediately, if the course of mental activities is set by this tension, does this mean that our psychic state is that of pleasure before any set in motion? According to Freud, pleasure and unpleasure are related in relation to the quantity of excitation, but this quantity "is not in any way bound".32 Pleasure is understood as a decrease in excitation while unpleasure is referred to as an increase in excitation. Hence, "the factor that determines the feeling is probably the amount of increase or diminution in the quantity of excitation in a given period of time".33 Therefore there is no direct proportional relation between pleasure and unpleasure. The relation is, for now, temporal.

From the beginning of the text, Freud rejects what Derrida calls the sovereignty of the pleasure principle. He argues that "it must be pointed out, however, that strictly speaking it is incorrect to talk of the dominance of the pleasure principle over the course of mental processes." What Freud does acknowledge and work on is the assumption that "there exists in the mind a strong tendency towards the pleasure principle…"34

The pleasure principle is a primary process, but interestingly enough, it does not help the organism's self-preservation from the external world. That is why the ego's drives towards self-preservation resort to the reality principle.35 That is to say the pleasure principle is replaced by the reality principle because (even though the ultimate goal is pleasure) the reality principle postpones satisfaction, it abandons some possible ways of satisfaction and it tolerates unpleasure. Its important to point out that as a primary process the pleasure principle is the method employed by the sexual drives. Freud also points out that "the replacement of the pleasure principle by the reality principle can only be made responsible for a small number, and by no means the most intense, of unpleasurable experiences."36 For instance, repression can turn a possibility of pleasure into unpleasure. The quintessential example is neurotic unpleasure: "pleasure that cannot be felt as such."37 What we want to argue here is that the pleasure principle, given its status as a primary process, is split from the beginning and also that such split is constitutive of the subject. Since the workings of the mental apparatus and particularly the ego is a developmental process, instinctual impulses that would be experienced as pleasure are split by the process of repression because they "turn out to be incompatible in their aims or demands with the remaining ones, which are able to combine into the inclusive unity of the ego."38 Hence what was to be a pleasurable satisfaction of a drive's aim or demand ended up being experienced as unpleasure.39

As we pointed out earlier, for Freud the problem with studies on the motivation of play in children is that they have not paid attention to the pleasure involved in the activity. That is to say, in the economic motive, where the economy is a quantitative relation of energy flow. In this relation the game comes to be a renunciation of instinctual satisfaction. The beyond of the pleasure principle consists (contra Derrida) "of tendencies more primitive than it and independent of it."40 Freud comes to argue that fort/da is a renunciation of instinctual satisfaction in the following way: he contends that "the interpretation of the game became obvious. It was related to the child's great cultural achievement- the instinctual renunciation (that is, the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction) which he had made in allowing his mother to go away without protesting."41 The pleasure principle is also analogical here in the sense that it has to renounce instant gratification.42 The ego makes this happen by bringing in the reality principle.

However, what was troubling for Freud was that after having established that throwing away the toy was related to both the child's mother departure as well as his father's departure (to war), this was experienced by the child as something pleasurable. This was not a problem if the game was seeing as a whole, that is if both instances are taken into consideration: fort and da. This reading is not as problematic as one may think at first because one can speculate that the disappearance of the object-toy-mother is necessary as a deferral to wait for its comeback in the da and therefore ultimately pleasure will be experienced. But what Freud points out, and Derrida misses, is that "the first act, that of departure, was staged as a game in itself and far more frequently than the episode in its entirety, with its pleasurable ending."43 Hence, after Freud considered the game in both its expressions he concluded that the pleasure principle is always present. The problem then is not whether there is a yield of pleasure or not, but that focusing on the pleasure principle cannot give us any "evidence of the operation of tendencies beyond the pleasure principle, that is, of tendencies more primitive than it and independent of it."44 It is here where Freud begins to delve deeper on what is beyond the pleasure principle.

The two concepts that are going to be associated with the beyond, and ultimately will be known as that which is beyond are the compulsion to repeat and the death drive. But how Freud gets to this and what is the importance of this for subjectivity as such is what we are interested in.

The compulsion to repeat comes from the aim of making conscious what was unconscious. The technique looks for a remembering of it but the subject (usually a patient), instead, repeats the experience and experiences it as if it was a contemporary one. According to Freud, this unconscious, in contrast with the coherent ego, does not resist treatment. The resistance comes from the ego rather than from the repressed which is where the compulsion to repeat comes from. Freud tells us that "the compulsion to repeat must be ascribed to the unconscious repressed", therefore it can bring about both kinds of experiences: pleasurable and unpleasurable. Although as we pointed out, the unconscious repressed does not resist45, and the compulsion to repeat comes from there, the liberation of the repressed produces unpleasure. This is to say that there is a form of the compulsion to repeat "which overrides the pleasure principle". In this sense then, there is a struggle between a part of the ego (that wants to remain besides the pleasure principle) and the compulsion to repeat, because the ego, as always wanting to be master of its house, wants to draw the compulsion to repeat to its side. What this tells us is that the compulsion to repeat is more primal than the pleasure principle and that it can override it. At this point Freud has shown there are situations where the compulsion to repeat dethrones the pleasure principle. Moreover, his elaboration of the dynamic of the pleasure principle and its beyond takes an interesting twist seen from a topological perspective.

Freud saw the operation of consciousness as a particular system divided by the barrier of what he termed perception-consciousness. This barrier separated exterior perception of excitations and interior feelings of pleasure and unpleasure. This configuration was understood as a spatiality of perceptions yielded by consciousness. What distinguished this system from others was that in all the excitatory processes in other systems of the mental apparatus they "leave permanent traces behind in them which forms the foundations of memory."46 In the system perception-consciousness there cannot be any permanent traces, because of the protective shield from exterior stimuli. Hence, any excitation that has the force to penetrate the protective shield is by default a traumatic excitation. However, although the system perception-consciousness has this shield against external stimuli, it lacks it when it comes to internal stimuli. This internal excitation from the deeper layers are then perceived as pleasure and unpleasure. How then does the system protect itself from strong internal excitations in order to avoid traumatic phenomena? According to Freud when there are internal excitations "which produce too great an increase of unpleasure there is a tendency to treat them as though they were acting, not from the inside, but from the outside, so that it may be possible to bring the shield against stimuli into operation as a means of defense against them."47

There are some important points that come out of this elaboration of the system perception- consciousness. First, the notions of pleasure and unpleasure are treated as feelings that originated in the organism from within, not in relation to the external world stimuli. Also that there is a whole method of disposing of large amounts of stimuli caused by a trauma because of a breakthrough in the protective shield. This process is what Freud calls binding. To describe this process Freud follows Breuer's hypothesis regarding the two kinds of cathexes where he stipulated two forms of the charges of energy: the freely flowing cathexis and the quiescent cathexis. Energy binding is the transformation of the former into the latter. This is extremely important in understanding how the pleasure principle works in the face of trauma. If binding works, in part, to dispose of the energy that exceeds the protective shield, then "that preparedness for anxiety and the hypercathexis of the receptive systems constitute the last line of defense of the shield against stimuli."48 If these defenses fail we have a situation where traumatic neurosis is highly probable. Under such circumstances, which Freud considers in detail since they represent the most common situation in psychoanalysis, major changes occur to the working of the psychic apparatus in general and the pleasure principle in particular.

To begin with, under the workings of the pleasure principle the basic function of dreams is wish fulfillment. However, this changes when we have in the panorama traumatic neurosis. First, under traumatic neurosis the pleasure principle cannot act. Second, the task of dreams under traumatic neurosis is to take the suffering subject back to the situation which caused the trauma (a characteristic shared with dreams under analysis). Finally, once the traumatic situation has been recovered, the objective is to retrospectively develop an anxiety and get rid of the fright which was the cause of the trauma.49

For Freud this function of dreams (when traumatic neurosis is present) is not contradictory of the pleasure principle but "independent" and "more primitive than the purpose of gaining pleasure and avoiding unpleasure."50 Therefore, following Freud, we can say that if under traumatic neurosis dreams are more primitive and independent of the pleasure principle, then they are brought up by the compulsion to repeat. Hence, we can see two distinct functions in dreams from the above. We have a primordial function which we can call the stage-setting function and then we have the commonly known function of wish-fulfilment. They are not contradictory, but they serve to two different workings of the mental apparatus, one to the compulsion to repeat and the other to the pleasure principle.

Once again, we see that despite all the nuanced and detailed reading Derrida gave us of Freud, he not only missed these fundamental distinctions, but misinterpreted the text therefore giving us a theory of will to power that poses the subject in an 'all too human' setting. We will see at the end of this paper that the theory of the subject that we can derive from our reading of Freud presents us a different conception of subjectivity, one that is not 'logocentric' as Derrida would have us believe, but that is centered in a constitutive split.

Although the basic and most well known characteristic of dreams is wish-fulfilment this function takes place only when the pleasure principle is in place. And contrary to what Derrida argues, this 'dominance' of the pleasure principle is neither originary nor all-encompasing. This is nowhere more clearly expressed by Freud than when he states that "the function of dreams, which consists in setting aside any motives that might interrupt sleep, by fulfilling the wishes of the disturbing impulses, is not their original function."51 This function comes along only with the pleasure principle. Thus, Freud tell us that "if there is a 'beyond the pleasure principle', it is only consistent to grant that there was also a time before the purpose of dreams was the fulfilment (sic) of wishes."52

Freud's theory of the drives stands as another essential component of our reading.53 Freud treated the drives in this text as excitations from within. We find that is important to note that the drives can cause "economic disturbances comparable with traumatic neuroses."54 This is due to the absence of the protective shield in the side of the cortical layer facing the excitations from within. The impulses of the drives obey freely flowing cathexis. Hence, as we discussed earlier, this energy usually belongs to the realm of the unconscious and therefore is energy not bound. Therefore these impulses of the drives are to be located in the primary process, as opposed to the quiescent cathexis that belongs to the realm of consciousness, is bound energy, and therefore is to be located in the secondary process. With this in mind we can see that these impulses of the drives are related to the compulsion to repeat insofar as they both are primary processes. Freud defines drives in the following way: "…a drive is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces…"55 Once this theoretical stage has been set, the move towards the now famous death drive is imminent. Freud introduces it by arguing that "if we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons- becomes inorganic once again- then we shall be compelled to say that 'the aim of all life is death' and, looking backwards, that 'inanimate things existed before living ones'."56 Hence at a first glimpse it seems that the death drive is stipulated as the first, or, originary drive. However, "the possibility remains that the instincts which were later to be described as sexual may have been in opposition from the very first, and it may not be true that it was only at a later time that they started upon their work of opposing the activities of the 'ego instincts'."57

After Freud had begun to develop the theory of the death drive, exemplified by the compulsion to repeat, and characterized this drive as belonging to primary processes, he notes that the drives that provide "elementary organisms" with a "safe shelter while they [the organisms] are defenceless against the stimuli of the external world…constitute the group of the sexual drives."58 The sexual drives are characterized as the "true life drives" and more importantly these drives do not start to work at later stages in the development of the organism, but are operative from the beginning. In short, since the theory of the drives operates in the same way in the individual, we can safely say that the subject, as subject of desire, is constitutively split. The operations of the sexual drives, the death drive, and the compulsion to repeat are 'always already' present and therefore rather than a simple search for pleasure (that only comes in the secondary processes) the operations in the primary processes are in conflict from the start. At this point another important development occurs in the text when Freud asserts that "there is unquestionably no universal drive towards higher development", that is to say, there is no striving towards perfection. Here, contrary to what Derrida would have us believe, Freud is very anti-Nietzschean. He urges us to "abandon the belief that there is a drive towards perfection at work in human beings, which has brought them to their present high level of intellectual achievement and ethical sublimation and which may be expected to watch over their development into supermen." Freud would tackle human being's intellectual achievements and their basis in sublimation ten years later in Civilization and Its Discontents. For the time being he argued that he had "no faith, however, in the existence of any such internal drive" toward perfection, and concluded saying that he "cannot see how this benevolent illusion is to be preserved."59

What is seen by some as this drive toward perfection is just the drive's "strive for complete satisfaction" which has been impeded by repression. Such complete satisfaction is, however, not attainable. As Freud indicates, the "path that leads to complete satisfaction is as a rule obstructed by the resistances which maintain repressions."60

As we have argued throughout this paper, Derrida's interpretation ignored some extremely important relations. Freud is very clear when he explains the universal relation of all drives to the restoration of an earlier state of things in all living organisms. The pleasure principle has no control over this general aim of drives. If it did, then the reality principle and the ego's demands would be ineffectual. Moreover, the work of binding and its relation to Eros play an important role in the functioning of the psychic apparatus. This relation of binding and Eros opens up a new space for Freud that he did not have before Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Previous to this work, the work of binding belonged to a heavily cathected system, that is the ego, capable of binding an influx of free energy. The work of binding then amounted to the ego exerting an influence on the primary process. Thus, binding would introduce an inhibition characteristic of secondary processes and the reality principle. However, a new relation is explored in Beyond. Here the transformation of "freely mobile cathetic energy into a mainly quiescent (tonic) cathexis…occurs on behalf of the pleasure principle; the binding is a preparatory act which introduces and assures the dominance of the pleasure principle"61. Thus, binding achieves a new unprecedented function and establishes a constitutive relation to pleasure putting itself closer to the laws governing unconscious desires, i.e. primary processes. The consequences that this has for psychoanalytic theory are beyond the scope of this paper, but we want to finish by outlining some of the consequences that this has for a theory of the subject.


Taking into consideration our discussions of the pleasure principle, the beyond of the pleasure principle, the compulsion to repeat and the death drive, we see that the kind of subject that emerges from the complex relation between these psychic factors is one that points out the limits of the pleasure principle. Such a subject has been referred to by Jacques Lacan as a subject of Jouissance.62 However, although the term jouissance is Lacan's, the theorization of its functions is what we find in Beyond. Jouissance is found beyond the pleasure principle because of its inseparable ties with the death drive. As we have seen, what caught Freud's attention about his grandson's activities was their incessant repetitions: fort/da again and again. This repetition seemed at first to give the child simple pleasure, but as Freud pointed out it went beyond that mere pleasure. This repetition then presupposes the death drive, but the death drive by itself cannot reach the kernel of the subject. It is when such drive is accompanied by jouissance that we see that subject of desire in full splendor.

We have seen that for Freud the death drive is inherent to the compulsion to repeat. This repetition is at the core of both psychoanalytic discourse and practice. For instance, the unconscious has to repeat itself again and again in order to be heard. The manifestation of the unconscious through repetition is what psychoanalysis calls a symptom. The death drive was discovered by Freud precisely because of the compulsion to repeat. Psychoanalytic theory finds the death drive through repetition: the repetition of the unconscious, repetition of the symptom, repetition of transference. And it is this compulsion to repeat that accompanies the death drive; what repeats itself again and again until it achieves jouissance. Hence, the subject of jouissance is also the subject of the death drive, the subject of the compulsion to repeat and even the subject of the pleasure principle. The stance of the subject in between the struggles and conflicts of psychic phenomena is not separate from the constitution of the subject. These primary conflicts are precisely constitutive of the subject. And as such the subject of psychoanalysis comes to us as a split subject, one that did not suffer the collapse of his whole, but one that was never whole but always already split.


* I would like to thank Alan Bass, Jennifer Stone, and Nicholas Xenos for their comments.
1. The focus of this paper is Derrida's "To Speculate- on "Freud"". This essay is the second section of Derrida, Jacques. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987). From now on references to this text will be indicated by PC.
2. PC, p.260
3. PC, p.197
4. This is a quote from Alan Bass, the translator of the text, where he is explaining Derrida's general topic, i.e., revenance. PC, p.260,n 3.
5. PC, p.261
6. PC, p.266
7. PC, p.263
8. Freud, Sigmund Beyond the Pleasure Principle trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1989) p. 13 From now on references to this text will be indicated by BPP.
9. BPP, p. 12
10. BPP, p. 13
11. BPP, p. 13
12. BPP, p. 14
13. BPP, p. 14
14. BPP, p. 14
15. quoted in PC, p. 263
16. The quote is taken from Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: Norton, 1998) p. 46
17. Gay, p.45
18. PC, p. 275
19. PC, p. 276
20. PC, p. 276
21. PC p. 282
22. PC, p. 283
23. PC, p. 292. Translator's note.
24. PC, p.294
25. PC, p.303
26. PC, p. 320
27. PC, p. 333
28. PC, p. 334
29. PC, p. 336
30. PC, p. 355
31. PC, p. 404
32. BPP, p. 4. The issue of binding and its importance will be discuss later.
33. BPP, p. 4
34. BPP, p. 6
35. BPP, p. 7
36. BPP, p. 7
37. BPP, p. 8
38. BPP, p. 8
39. We can see also that the ego here is stronger than the pleasure principle.
40. BPP, p. 17
41. BPP, p. 14
42. An important characteristics that shows a development in the psychic economy of the subject. A characteristics that we consider to be an example of maturity.
43. BPP, p. 15 emphasis added.
44. BPP, p. 17 emphasis in the original.
45. This means that it's analyzable.
46. BPP, p. 27
47. BPP, p. 33
48. BPP, p. 36
49. Freud distinguishes fear, fright, and anxiety. In anxiety there is an expectation of danger, but the object is unknown. In fear, there is the expectation of danger but the object is known. Fright is expo-facto, there was no expectation and the object was unknown. If one is in a state of anxiety before an event, a trauma is less likely to happen.
50. BPP, p. 37
51. BPP, p. 37 emphasis in the original.
52. BPP, pp.37-38
53. James Strachey, in his otherwise acclaimed translation of the complete works of Freud, translated two different German terms Instinkt and Trieb as 'instinct' in English. Freud rarely used the word instinck ,and when he did the connotation was different from trieb. Instinkt translates perfectly as instinct in English, but trieb doesn't. The commonly used translation for trieb in English is drive. Hence every time the word "instinct" appears in a quote, we will change it to 'drive'. This is not an idiosyncrasy of this author, but an accepted practice. The distinction is based in the fact that Trieb or drive is related to desire while instinkt or instinct is not.
54. BPP, p. 40
55. BPP, p. 43
56. BPP, pp. 45-46
57. BPP, p. 49
58. BPP, p. 48
59. BPP, p.50
60. BPP, p. 51 emphasis added.
61. BPP, p. 75-76
62. Jacques Lacan's most intensive discussion of Freud's Beyond can be found in Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Ego in Freud's Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955 trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. (New York: Norton, 1988) see pp. 27-90. However, the development of the term jouissance in Lacan has various phases. We are using the term here as developed after 1960 when he opposed jouissance with pleasure. In this formulation, pleasure is the limit of enjoyment, while jouissance is that which pushes the subject beyond pleasure; that is that presses the subject to transgress the limitations imposed by the 'paternal law' as well as by the function of the super ego. For a concise discussion of this concept see Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary to Lacanian Psychoanalysis. (New York: Routledge, 1996) pp. 91-92