White Over Red

Robert Rowland Smith

in Death-Drive

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780748640393
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671601 | DOI:
White Over Red

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This chapter poses the following question: If Freud largely excludes destruction from the death-drive, where does it go, and how does it relate to death, if at all? Freud's answer, in short, is sadism — but sadism, though it can lead to death (both homicide and suicide), seems to stand apart from the machinery of the death-drive. So is there anything deathly at all about death, anything that is violent, cruel, or annihilating? One of Freud's subtlest readers, Jacques Derrida, has attempted to trace the residual violence in the death-drive, and he too links it with the aesthetic of a kind. The chapter examines Derrida's argument and then modifies it somewhat, taking Mark Rothko's painting White Over Red as a test case. The result is a classical conjunction of beauty and destruction affirmed, but in a mode that deviates from classic or classical aesthetics. The deathly beauty involved never appears as such, meaning that it never becomes available as an aesthetic object: its doing away with itself before coming to light is precisely what makes its beauty possible.

Keywords: Freud; death-drive; sadism; Jacques Derrida; Mark Rothko; classical aesthetics; beauty; destruction

Chapter.  11734 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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