The Death of Desire: A Study in Psychopathology

The Death of Desire: A Study in Psychopathology

ISBN 0-8147-8175-6
Trade Paper, 233pp, 1986
New York University Press,
New York, NY

Currently out of print.

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The Death of Desire

A Study in Psychopathology

A stunning analysis of the importance of desire in psychoanalysis, THE DEATH OF DESIRE presents a brilliant synthesis of the work of Freud, Lacan, Laing, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and others and situates the unconscious — what Freud called “the lost continent of repressed desires” — in phenomenology.

This book bridges a critical gap between phenomenologists and psychoanalysts. The author argues that the former have failed to account for the Freudian unconscious and contends that the latter have been unable to make the theory of the unconscious comprehensible. Rather than giving an inventory of “mental disorders,” THE DEATH OF DESIRE seeks to uncover what is manifest when pathos is ascribed to a specifically human situation — to provide a way to understand human suffering as well as the unique task of the psychoanalyst who must encounter this suffering and attend to it, sympathetically.

In order to articulate the significance of desire in psychoanalysis from a phenomenological perspective, M. Guy Thompson abandons Freud’s conception of desire rooted in biology and replaces it with Hegel’s, articulated in terms of the subject’s existential appeal for recognition, in terms of the lack the heart of man’s being. Viewed from this perspective, psychoanalysis is in turn conceived as an undertaking that aims at the realization of desire instead of it satisfaction, which is to say, its adaptation. The author thus defines man as “the ensemble of his desires” and psychopathology as the subversion, or deadening, of those desires.

By examining psychopathology in terms of the dialectic of deadened desire, this book offers a provocative and challenging reappraisal of the foundations of psychoanalysis that will be of interest to psychoanalysts, philosophers, psychologists, social scientists, and students of psychotherapy.

—LEO GOLDBERGER, Editor, Psychoanalytic Crosscurrents

“Thompson’s book is more than an introduction to Lacan. It is a sweeping revision of psychoanalysis seen by a psychologist familiar with modern philosophy and aware of the difference that a philosophical point of view makes in constructing theory. It is as quietly confident, as respectful of the reader, and as unpolemical as Lacan was the opposite of all of these…” [Read More…]


“This is a thoughtful and reflective study of, and meditation upon, our thoughtlessness and lack of reflectiveness. It weaves its way through the thinking of Freud, Lacan, Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, and others, who have pondered over the nature of human suffering. Any psychotherapist (or anyone) who wants to consider in depth what psychotherapy is about will find this study rewarding and illuminating.” 


“An extraordinarily powerful book. As an existential primer for psychotherapists of all schools, the book is a triumph. The wisdom available in difficult and popularly shunned thinkers, such as Jacques Lacan and Medard Boss, is made brilliantly accessible. I cannot think of another book of this kind that is so consistently able to make complex ideas clear. In the litearture of psychotherapy, it is rare to find a book so moving as this and so compelling in its humanity.”

—WILLIAM KERRIGAN, University of Virginia