Philippe Van Haute: Melancholia and Sexual Theory: Identification and Drive in Freud’s Later Works

Freudian psychoanalysis is a pathoanalysis. It takes psychopathology as a starting point to understand human existence. The different psychopathologies are nothing but exaggerations and magnifications of elements and tendencies that structure the life of all of us. Freuds sexual theory as we find it in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality takes hysteria and perversions as a model to understand human sexuality as the cornerstone of human existence. However, this theory leads to an impasse especially when it comes to nostalgia and melancholia. Indeed, in Three Essays Freud considers the object of the drive both contingent and extremely variable. But how then can we understand nostalgia, mourning and melancholia? In trying to understand melancholia Freud starts developing a theory of identification that itself contradicts some basic assumptions of his sexual theory. It is only the development of a new theory of the drives in 1920 that allows Freud to give a sufficient account of identification and thus of melancholia.


Philippe Van Haute is professor of philosophical Anthropology at Radboud University (The Netherlands) and extra-ordinary professor of philosophy at the University of Pretoria (South Africa). He is a member of the Belgian School for Psychoanalysis of which he was president from 2006-2009. He published mainly on the relation between psychoanalysis and philosophy. In the last years he focused his research on the work of Sigmund Freud. He recently published (with Herman Westerink) Reading Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. From Pleasure to Object (History of Psychoanalysis series, Routledge, 2021).