In its work ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ (1920), Freud speaks of the existence of some fundamental structure of the human mind, whose essential quality becomes the dualism of unconscious instinctual impulses. Human behaviour is supposedly motivated by the instincts of two kinds: libidinal or life, and destructive or death instinct. The sexual Eros, or libido, as named by Freud, represents the primary impetus of evolution: it concerns the selection of all sensations of pleasure that ensure and preserve life.
Its opposition is the destructive, devastatingly aggressive Thanatos; the urge which, like a counterpoise to Eros, operates with the desire for destruction and the aspiration for death. It is essential that Thanatos is not inevitably negative: the psychology of the modern age in a controlled aggression recognizes a symptomatic opportunity, enabling human liberation through sublimation.
The problem of destructiveness is herewith explicitly exposed and subjected to theoretical reflection, which makes it accessible not only to science, but perhaps even more so and primarily to art, which truly canalizes the impulses from the outer world subliminally, in order to subject them to the censorship of the psyche.
A human is a being of Eros. The instinct of life, however, when Being becomes endangered, transforms into a more aggressive, evolutionary stronger Thanatos. It’s about overcoming the obstacles, and it is Being that always and everywhere wins – even in the synthesis of the notion of Being, which represents, at the level of an idea, a surplus, exactly for the reason that it is alive. In principle, a human makes one’s way to the fulfilment of Eros’ instincts in a roundabout way, by achieving one’s satisfaction in other ways, more appropriate in a civilized world, mitigating the primatological discomfort, based on the absence of human life. The overcoming of the discomfort is of much greater importance when striving after higher goals, when we constantly find ourselves in the phase of ‘positive’ dissatisfaction.
The instinct of death or the destructive instinct inevitably represents the counterpart of the living. Eros without Thanatos does not exist as it lacks the impulse – it is merely a decorative shell. Eros only exists as the sublime, palms enclosing the heart, tenderly framed by Thanatos. This is their way of bonding: Thanatos eternally watching over Eros, gracefully bestowing, accepting, sharing, giving it away.