“I am still of opinion that only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mood – sex and the dead.”*

*William Butler Yeats, in a letter of 1929.

Image: (Wikipedia) “Amore e Psiche (Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss) 1787-1793, by Antonio Canova. It is the moment in which Psyche is “a corpse asleep” revived by Cupid that Canova chose to depict. It is regarded as a masterpiece of Neoclassical sculpture, but shows the mythological lovers at a moment of great emotion, characteristic of the emerging movement of Romanticism.”

From the website of the Institute of Psychoanalysis – British Psychoanalytical Society:

“…A year after the outbreak of the First World War, at the age of sixty, Freud gave his ‘Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis’ at the University of Vienna. In them he outlined the key tenets of psychoanalytic theory, as he had developed them over the past two decades, including his ideas of repression, free association and libido. The lectures were published two years later, and went on to become his most popular publication. The year after the end of the war, in 1919, Freud examined soldiers traumatized by their experience of fighting. He did not write much explicitly about the psychological damage done by warfare, but it nevertheless influenced his thinking significantly, for example in his concepts of repetition compulsion and the death instinct.

In 1920 Freud suffered a personal tragedy when his daughter Sophie died from the influenza eviscerating an already war-damaged Europe. She was aged only twenty-seven when she died, pregnant, and a mother of two. Three years later Freud would also lose Sophie’s son Heinerle, his grandson, at the age of four. He wrote in a letter: “I have hardly ever loved a human being, certainly never a child, so much as him.” He said he had never felt such grief. The year of Sophie’s death, Freud published ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, a paper introducing his concepts of repetition compulsion and the death instinct, and building upon his earlier description of the function and operation of dreams. It is in this work that he revised his theory that human behaviour is almost entirely driven by sexual instincts, instead portraying the psyche in a state of conflict between opposites: creative, life-seeking, sexual Eros; and destructive, death-bent Thanatos. In Freud’s formulation, the death instinct was an expression of a fundamental biological longing to return to an inanimate state. This new theory was not well received by most of his analytic colleagues in Vienna, though it would, in time, have a big impact on the thinking of several preeminent psychoanalytic thinkers, notably Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein…”

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