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compulsion to repeat


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A highly complex concept in psychoanalysis with at least two orders of meaning: firstly, in the weakest sense, it refers to the myriad rituals and routines many people seem to adhere to in their everyday lives which, if interrupted, would cause mild to severe discomfort; secondly, in the strongest sense, it refers to the persistence of unconscious thoughts and their ability to evade even the most determined forms of repression. Aptly, Slavoj *Žižek often uses the image of the zombie in cinema to characterize the compulsion to repeat—the image is apt because as a compulsion it lies outside of the control of conscious thought and because in Freud's view the compulsion to repeat belongs to the order of the death drive. Freud treats the compulsion to repeat as a symptom of a disturbed unconscious—most likely that disturbance is caused by a trauma the unconscious has not yet been able to process, so it relives it over and over again until it can. The much talked about ‘pop psychological’ notion of ‘closure’ is directed precisely at this phenomenon: we desire closure so as to bring the compulsion to repeat a traumatic memory to an end.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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