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Can Lawyers Be Cured?: Nietzsche's Theory of Eternal Recurrence and the Lacanian Death Drive

36 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2003  

Jeanne L. Schroeder

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law


Perhaps Nietzsche's strangest idea is "eternal recurrence." Indeed, it is so strange that, despite its centrality in his works, some of Nietzsche's modern interpreters - most notably Alexander Nehemas - distance themselves from a literal interpretation of the doctrine. Rather than a cosmology, it becomes a mere thought experiment. This may be necessary if one wants to defend Nietzscheanism as single coherent philosophy. It does, however, fly in the face of much of Nietzsche's language.

In this Article, Schroeder offers some thoughts based on Lacanian psychoanalysis on both the concept of eternal recurrence as well as the reactions of modern day Nietzscheans toward it. She suggests, among other things, that eternal recurrence looks forward to Lacan's concept of drive: the abandonment of desire, understood as the pursuit of a teleological goal, in favor of circular, iterative activity. Surprisingly, in psychoanalysis "drive" brings cure - relief from the unbearable pressures of desire. Does this suggest why eternal recurrence held so much fascination for a man locked in a losing battle with psychosis? From this she asks whether the concept of eternal recurrence has any relevance to the practice of law? Can lawyers be cured?

This Article first explores accounts of eternal recurrence and the case for treating it as a thought experiment, or theory of human nature, as opposed to a cosmology, or theory of nature. Prof. Schroeder then suggests a few interpretations of eternal recurrence drawn from Lacanian theory. First, one simplistic version of the theory of eternal recurrence is an example of the masculine sexuated position - an attempt to deny the split or negativity that constitutes subjectivity that Nietzsche recognizes elsewhere in his work. Second, the presumption adopted by some Nietzscheans that one can both claim to reject a literal interpretation of eternal recurrence while simultaneously using it "as though it might be true" for certain purposes reflects the psychoanalytic strategy known the "fetishist split". Third, Prof. Schroeder offers a more sophisticated interpretation of eternal recurrence, comparing it to Lacan's concept of "drive."

She then turns to an analysis of legal practice based on Lacanian discourse theory. She asks whether an attorney can cure herself from the unhappiness and resentment caused by desire by adopting a theory of eternal recurrence and still successfully engage in the practice of law.

Suggested Citation

Schroeder, Jeanne L., Can Lawyers Be Cured?: Nietzsche's Theory of Eternal Recurrence and the Lacanian Death Drive. Cardozo Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 70. Available at SSRN: or

Jeanne L. Schroeder (Contact Author)

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ( email )

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New York, NY 10003
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