Between the two deaths

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The space of pure death drive without desire, between symbolic death and actual death.

Lacan associates this space with an unconditional, insistent demand, like the demand from the ghost of Hamlet's father insisting that he be revenged. In popular culture, this position is often taken up by the living dead (ghosts, vampires, zombies, etc.), by, as Slavoj Zizek puts it, "the fantasy of a person who does not want to stay dead but returns again and again to pose a threat to the living."[1]


The subject can die not once, but twice.

We will suffer a biological death in which our bodies will fail and eventually disintegrate. This is death in the real, of our material self.

We can also suffer a symbolic death. This is not the death of our actual bodies. This death entails the collapse of the symbolic order and the destruction of our subject positions. We can suffer a death in which we are excluded from the Symbolic and no longer exist for the Other. This can occur in psychosis. We still exist in the Real but not in the Symbolic.

The gap between the two deaths, Žižek argues, can be filled either by manifestations of the monstrous or the beautiful. For example, in Hamlet, the play by William Shakespeare, Hamlet's father is dead in the Real. However, he persists as a terrifying and monstrous apparition because he was murdered and thereby cheated of the chance to settle his Symbolic debts. Once that debt has been repaid, following Hamlet's killing of his murderer, he is 'completely' [dead]].

Correspondingly, in Antigone, the play by Sophocles, Antigone suffers a Symbolic death before her Real death when she is excluded from the community for wanting to bury her traitorous brother. This destruction of her social identity instils her character with a sublime beauty. Ironically, Antigone enters the domain between the two deaths "precisely in order to prevent her brother's second death: to give him a proper funeral that will secure his eternalization."[2] That is, she endures a Symbolic death in order that her brother, who has been refused proper burial rites, will not suffer a Symbolic death himself.


  1. (Looking Awry 22)
  2. Slavoj Žižek

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