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Drive beyond body: the undead jouissance of endurance sports

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Abstract

Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of drive as a “less than nothing” entity that goes beyond life and death itself in the space of the “undead” is the proper dimension of endurance sports. The question of how far a human can push themselves is open, and limited only by real-life investigation. This paper highlights aspects and potential limits of the drive through three stories of endurance feats: the “Iron Cowboy” James Lawrence who completed 100 Ironman triathlons in 100 days, Courtney Dauwalter who won a 240-mile ultramarathon, and Eliud Kipchoge, the fastest marathoner in history. In each story, a few themes emerge, like the paradox that “discipline is freedom,” “feeling alive at the moment of death,” and pure jouissance beyond biology. It is not a coincidence that the first marathoner in history actually died after making the famous trip from Marathon to Athens. In the same way, this is exactly the death that endurance athletes strive toward. This paper argues that we should understand this drive as a being-toward-death, as Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis in Being and Time holds remarkably for the experience of endurance athletes. But even beyond Heidegger’s being-toward-death, as well as various biological explanations for sports motivations, only Jacques Lacan’s understanding of drive, and the lamella, yield a satisfying account of these fantastic athletic achievements. As well as the three stories of endurance feats, I incorporate my own experience as an endurance athlete.

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More, C. Drive beyond body: the undead jouissance of endurance sports. Psychoanal Cult Soc 29, 280–289 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41282-023-00419-z

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