Eros y Tánatos
Norman O. Brown
Norman O. Brown, (1913-2002), the Californian son of an Irish mining engineer and a Cuban mother, enjoyed an exceptional education at Balliol College Oxford as an outstanding disciple of Isaiah Berlin and graduated in Greek and classical languages at the University of Michigan (Madison). He taught the classics for a couple of decades at Wesleyan University, when he published his essay on the figure Hermes ("Hermes the Thief", 1947) and his highly praised English version of Hesiod s Theogony ("Theogony", 1953), until he began "an in-depth study on Freud", the first and extraordinary result of which was Life Against Death (1956), the book that we now present as "Eros y Tánatos".
This reading of Freud had a huge impact on Brown. Shortly afterwards, following a stay at the University of Rochester, he moved permanently to the University of California (Santa Cruz), now as a Humanities lecturer, where he extended his focus of attention from the ancient world to a no less classical reflection on human nature and its destiny. At that time, he was already an intellectual reference in California comparable with Herbert Marcuse. After seven years of dedication, Brown published "Love s Body" (1967; included in this collection as "El Cuerpo del Amor", 2005), possibly his masterpiece, which he presented as "a continuation of the journey which began with "Life Against Death", especially of the last chapter, dedicated to "the resurrection of the body".
After following his colleague’s Marcuse advise, Norman O. Brown undertook the writing of this essay encouraged, as he states in his prologue, by the “need to reappraise the nature and destiny of man.” Working on the premises of psychoanalysis, Brown adapts and reinterprets Freudian theories, criticizing their dualism, the separation between soul (psyche) and body. As a consequence of this separation, each individual suffers of repression, the “universal neurosis of mankind,” and history, led by a collectivity of individuals, goes through an analogous process of repression. History seen as neurosis, and in particular, Brown presents the rise of capitalism as the key moment of that neurosis. Thus, in Eros y Tanatos (Life Against Death), Brown goes over the Freudian theories of repression, of the instincts, the stages of infantile sexuality, and the theories of sublimation and of fantasy, to finally put forward a “way out”: the dialectical reunification of life and death, the end of repression, the “resurrection of the body”.