January 14, 2011, 6:58 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

This excerpt by Erich Fromm describes necrophilia in terms of sadism, control, work and technology.  Necrophilia is literally love of death, which on its face sounds absurd, until we realize, with a closer look, that it’s actually a description of our lives.

In an advanced stage capitalist society like this one Fromm’s observations about money and ownership resonate.  Ideological intractable views about ownership show an unwillingness to define our relationships in human, living terms.  Are they necrophilic?

I’ve had a couple conversations about art and ownership over the past year, specifically relating to the relocation of the very important collection of modern painting known as the Barnes Foundation.  The collection is being moved from its suburban location to the downtown against the wishes, as expressed in his will, of the late Mr. Barnes.  He hated the city and the institutions that now are behind the move.

Both conversations were with middle aged American men – young boomers.  For both men, ownership is the paramount determinant in deciding what should become of the art.  Other issues – like underdeveloped limbs ready to wither and fall off the body politic – are unimportant:  things like public appreciation and access, and the life and message of the artists who originally made the precious works.  According to Fromm, if our only determinant is ownership, we have necrophiliac tendencies.

Here is another example.  Why does Billboard and other film industry media report so one sidedly on box office takes?  Two possibilities:  money is important to art, its continued success; and film houses believe that value derives from public support:  if it is popular it must be good.  But this too is reductive to money.  What about ideas, the intent of the author, the inherent value of the film to our lives in society?  Of course, a legion of critics comment on these other issues, but the popular – People and Ok magazine – media tips the discourse heavily toward box office takes.  Surely this reductive emphasis is necrophilic.

Here is the excerpt —

The pleasure in complete domination over another person (or another animate creature) is the very essence of the sadistic drive.  Another way of formulating the same thought is to say that the aim of sadism is to transform a man into a thing, something animate into something inanimate, since by complete and absolute control the living loses one essential quality of life — freedom.


… freedom to create and construct, to wonder and to venture.  Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine …  It is not enough that men are not slaves.  If social conditions further the existence of automatons, the result will not be love of life, but love of death.


While life is characterized by growth in a structured, functional manner, the necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, all that is mechanical. The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things. … Memory, rather than experience; having, rather than being, is what counts. The necrophilous person can relate to an object — a flower or a person — only if he possesses it; hence a threat to his possession is a threat to himself; if he loses possession he loses contact with the world. … He loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life.

Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man, New York, 1966

4 Comments so far
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Paulo Freire uses this part of Fromm to describe our education systems–banking/deposit method, an aspect of dehumanizing domination–as necrophilic. (Ch. 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

Comment by Keith Wayne Brown

Hi Keith, a bit late but thanks for the note.

Comment by Peter Rudd

Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz and commented:
Coromandal posts from Erich Fromm. Paulo Freire uses this part of Fromm to describe our education systems–banking/deposit method, an aspect of dehumanizing domination–as necrophilic. (Ch. 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

Comment by Keith Wayne Brown

Thanks for reposting Keith.

Comment by Peter Rudd

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