As a drive to the inorganic, the death drive is fundamentally opposed to sensuality and, specifically, to pleasure and pain. This is why Gilles Deleuze understands Freud’s account of the death drive as the “beyond of the pleasure principle” not in terms of the transgression of a boundary or limit (going beyond pleasure into something painful or traumatic), but rather as a foray into speculative philosophy, an attempt to identify the transcendent principle or higher law of the pleasure principle, the supersensual law of its sensual manifestations. This paper explores the construction of the supersensual reality of the death drive in masochistic fantasy and in fetishistic disavowal, exploring their affinity not only with art and aesthetics but with mathematical and formal constructions. Both help to elucidate Freud’s early insight that the death drive is more mathematical than physical, a purely immanent energy with no sensual manifestation.
Unbound: The Speculative Mythology of the Death Drive
tracy mcnulty is a professor and chair of comparative literature at Cornell University. She is the author of The Hostess: Hospitality, Femininity, and the Expropriation of Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Wrestling with the Angel: Experiments in Symbolic Life (Columbia University Press, 2014). Currently, she is working on two books: “Libertine Mathematics: Perversions of the Linguistic Turn” and “Intersubjective Acts: Freud in History.”