Download The Denial of Death PDF

TitleThe Denial of Death
File Size1.7 MB
Total Pages323
Table of Contents
                            Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter One: Introduction: Human Nature and the Heroic
Part I: The Depth Psychology of Heroism
	Chapter Two: The Terror of Death
	Chapter Three: The Recasting of Some Basic Psychoanalytic Ideas
	Chapter Four: Human Character as a Vital Lie
	Chapter Five: The Psychoanalyst Kierkegaard
	Chapter Six: The Problem of Freud's Character, Noch Einmal
Part II: The Failures of Heroism
	Chapter Seven: The Spell Cast by Persons—The Nexus of Unfreedom
	Chapter Eight: Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard
	Chapter Nine: The Present Outcome of Psychoanalysis
	Chapter Ten: A General View of Mental Illness
Part III: Retrospect and Conclusion: The Dilemmas of Heroism
	Chapter Eleven: Psychology and Religion: What Is the Heroic Individual?
Document Text Contents
Page 2


“… one of the most challenging books of the decade.…”

—Anatole Broyard, “A magnificent
psychophilosophical synthesis which ranks among the truly important

books of the year. Professor Becker writes with power and brilliant insight…
moves unflinchingly toward a masterful articulation of the limitations of

psychoanalysis and of reason itself in helping man transcend his conflicting
fears of both death and life… his book will be acknowledged as a major


“… to read it is to know the delight inherent in the unfolding of a mind
grasping at new possibilities and forming a new synthesis.

is a great book—one of the few great books of the 20th or any other

— “… a splendidly written book by an
erudite and fluent professor…. He manifests astonishing insight into the
theories of Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Soren Kierkegaard, Carl Jung,

Erich Fromm, and other giants…. Becker has written a powerful book….”

“… a brilliant, passionate synthesis of the human sciences which resurrects
and revitalizes… the ideas of psychophilosophical geniuses….

fuses them clearly, beautifully, with amazing concision, into an
organic body of theory which attempts nothing less than to explain the
possibilities of man’s meaningful, sane survival….”

— “… magnificent… not only the culmination but the
triumph of Becker’s attempt to create a meaningful ‘science of man’… a
moving, important and necessary work that speaks not only to the social

scientists and theologians but to all of us finite creatures.”

Page 161

songs have surely had this content from ancient times and will likely
continue to have it as long as man remains a mammal and a cousin of the
primates. These songs reflect the hunger for real experience, a serious
emotional yearning on the part of the creature. The point is that if the love
object is divine perfection, then one’s own self is elevated by joining one’s
destiny to it. One has the highest measure for one’s ideal-striving; all of
one’s inner conflicts and contradictions, the many aspects of guilt—all these
one can try to purge in a perfect consummation with perfection itself. This
becomes a true “moral vindication in the other.”5 Modern man fulfills his
urge to self-expansion in the love object just as it was once fulfilled in God:
“God as… representation of our own will does not resist us except when we
ourselves want it, and just as little does the lover resist us who, in yielding,
subjects himself to our will.”6 In one word, the love object is God. As a
Hindu song puts it: “My lover is like God; if he accepts me my existence is
utilized.” No wonder Rank could conclude that the love relationship of
modern man is a religious problem.7

Understanding this, Rank could take a great step beyond Freud. Freud
thought that modern man’s moral dependence on another was a result of the
Oedipus complex. But Rank could see that it was the result of a
continuation of the causa-sui project of denying creatureliness. As now there
was no religious cosmology into which to fit such a denial, one grabbed onto
a partner. Man reached for a “thou” when the world-view of the great
religious community overseen by God died. Modern man’s dependency on
the love partner, then, is a result of the loss of spiritual ideologies, just as is
his dependency on his parents or on his psychotherapist. He needs
somebody, some “individual ideology of justification” to replace the
declining “collective ideologies.”8 Sexuality, which Freud thought was at the
heart of the Oedipus complex, is now understood for what it really is:
another twisting and turning, a groping for the meaning of one’s life. If you
don’t have a God in heaven, an invisible dimension that justifies the visible
one, then you take what is nearest at hand and work out your problems on

As we know from our own experience this method gives great and real
benefits. Is one oppressed by the burden of his life? Then he can lay it at his
divine partner’s feet. Is self-consciousness too painful, the sense of being a
separate individual, trying to make some kind of meaning out of who one is,
what life is, and the like? Then one can wipe it away in the emotional

Page 162

yielding to the partner, forget oneself in the delirium of sex, and still be
marvellously quickened in the experience. Is one weighed down by the guilt
of his body, the drag of his animality that haunts his victory over decay and
death? But this is just what the comfortable sex relationship is for: in sex the
body and the consciousness of it are no longer separated; the body is no
longer something we look at as alien to ourselves. As soon as it is fully
accepted as a body by the partner, our self-consciousness vanishes; it merges
with the body and with the self-consciousness and body of the partner. Four
fragments of existence melt into one unity and things are no longer
disjointed and grotesque: everything is “natural,” functional, expressed as it
should be—and so it is stilled and justified. All the more is guilt wiped away
when the body finds its natural usage in the production of a child. Nature
herself then proclaims one’s innocence, how fitting it is that one should have
a body, be basically a procreative animal.9

But we also know from experience that things don’t work so smoothly or
unambiguously. The reason is not far to seek: it is right at the heart of the
paradox of the creature. Sex is of the body, and the body is of death. As
Rank reminds us, this is the meaning of the Biblical account of the ending of
paradise, when the discovery of sex brings death into the world. As in Greek
mythology too, Eros and Thanatos are inseparable; death is the natural twin
brother of sex.10 Let us linger on this for a moment because it is so central to
the failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems and is so much
a part of modern man’s frustration. When we say that sex and death are
twins, we understand it on at least two levels. The first level is philosophical-
biological. Animals who procreate, die. Their relatively short life span is
somehow connected with their procreation. Nature conquers death not by
creating eternal organisms but by making it possible for ephemeral ones to
procreate. Evolutionarily this seems to have made it possible for really
complex organisms to emerge in the place of simple—and almost literally
eternal—self-dividing ones.

But now the rub for man. If sex is a fulfillment of his role as an animal in
the species, it reminds him that he is nothing himself but a link in the chain
of being, exchangeable with any other and completely expendable in himself.
Sex represents, then, species consciousness and, as such, the defeat of
individuality, of personality. But it is just this personality that man wants to
develop: the idea of himself as a special cosmic hero with special gifts for the
universe. He doesn’t want to be a mere fornicating animal like any other—

Page 322

* Philip Rieff sobered me up about my loose use of ideas of immanence
during a panel exchange a couple of years ago. In a characteristically honest
and dramatic way he admitted that he was—like everyone else—a “part
man,” and he enjoined the audience to admit that we all were, asking what it
could possibly mean to be a “whole man.”
† I think Tillich failed to see through one idol in his search for the courage
to be. He seems to have liked the idea of the collective unconscious because
it expressed the dimension of the inner depth of being and might be an
access to the realm of essence. This seems to me a surprising lapse from his
customary soberness. How could the ground of being be as accessible as
Jung imagined? It seems to me that this concept would destroy the whole
idea of The Fall. How can man have the realm of essence “on tap,” so to
speak; and if he does, doesn’t Tillich’s understanding of grace lose all its
meaning as a pure gift beyond human effort?
† It is worth noting that Brown’s final point of arrival is the logically correct
one, but I personally find his later book very unsatisfying. One wonders why
he has to present his new position in such a barrage of aphorisms, such a
turbulent hodgepodge of half-veiled thoughts, terse in the extreme, and
often cryptic—only to end up in a mystical Christianity of the oldest vintage
and a call for the final judgment day. In this, at least, his later book is
entirely consistent with the earlier one: natural existence in the frustrating
limitations of the body calls for total, all-or-nothing relief, either in
unrepression or at last in the end of the world.

Page 323

We hope you enjoyed reading this Free Press eBook.

Sign up for our newsletter and receive special offers, access to bonus content, and info on the
latest new releases and other great eBooks from Free Press and Simon & Schuster.

or visit us online to sign up at

Similer Documents