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Dionysus, Thanatos, Chronos: battle of the gods. An analysis of different theories concerning the temporal context of the “death instinct”

Liberal Arts in Russia. 2019. Vol. 8. No. 4. Pp. 261-270.
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Altafova A. R.
State Academic University for the Humanities
26 Maronovsky Lane, 119049 Moscow, Russia


This article analyzes destructive forms of human behavior in the context of our relationship with time. Drawing upon Freud’s conception of the death instinct, the author shows that death itself is experienced differently within different systems of thought. For the Freudian subject death functions as a state of absolute dormancy that preceded life, for the Nietzschean subject it is, on the contrary, an intensity that is realized in the elusive present. Where Freud’s thanotic subject drives toward the comfort of psychic death in which the self is closed off to the world, Nietzsche’s Dionysian subject achieves the same goal by symbolically breaking down all barriers separating the self from the world, with the result that the self dissolves into the world. For the former, death is thought of as emptiness, for the latter it is absolute fullness. Thanatos resolves conflict by returning to a state of pre-organic dormancy; Dionysus instead intensifies chaos until the self is lost in ecstatic absorption within the whole. It is further shown that both of these - death-dormancy and death-intensity - are combined in Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy. Deleuze radicalizes the death theme, locating the self not between life and death - whether Freud’s Eros and Thanatos or Nietzsche’s Apollo and Dionysus - but between two deaths, thereby offering a radically different understanding of the impulse to destructive behavior.


  • • return
  • • death instinct
  • • destructiveness
  • • intensity
  • • life
  • • death
  • • time


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