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Sublimation

SUBLIMATION

Sublimation is a process that diverts the flow of instinctual energy from its immediate sexual aim and subordinates it to cultural endeavors.

The idea of sublimation leads back at once to the alchemical metaphor of the transmutation of base metal into gold, and to aesthetics, which from the ancient world (Longinus) to Romanticism (Goethe) saw the sublime as the transcendence of the individual's limitations. The concept evolved in Freud's work from the idea of the ennoblement or embellishment of a fantasy (Draft L [1950a (1895)]) to that of a genuine intra-instinctual process, the transformation of object libido into ego libido before it could assume new aims (1923b).

The unresolved complexity of the notion of sublimation means, however, that the term designates a set of questions rather than a well-circumscribed concept (Laplanche, 1980).

Sublimation would appear to be a very special vicissitude of the instinct, for its diversion of libidinal energy harnesses instinctual impulses in a way congenial to the superego and its society. Retransformation is possible, however, and therein the original instinctual force may regain the upper hand (resexualization of sublimated homosexual impulses (1911c [1910])). Desexualization alone cannot define the process of sublimation, which is not to be confused with inhibition or reaction formations, even if it plays a fundamental role because of its ability to exchange an originally sexual aim for another, which is its "psychical parent" (1908d).

As for the effect of sublimation on the object it valorizes in the eyes of society, Freud took great care to discourage any risk of confusion between sublimation and idealization, the latter implying an overestimation of the supposedly "sublime" object (1914c).

The development of the ability to sublimate ("Fähigkeit zur Sublimierung ") was related for Freud both to the individual's constitutional disposition (the initial strength of the sexual instinct) and to the events of childhood (the link between trauma and the intensity of infantile curiosity; cf., the case of Leonardo da Vinci being a good example). Sublimation occurred at the expense of the polymorphously perverse drives of childhood (especially bisexuality), which were diverted and applied to other aims, as witness the sublimation of anal eroticism into an interest in money, or the link between urethral eroticism and ambition. This process contributed to the formation of character traits. The component instincts were of particular significance here: the instinct to see could be sublimated into artistic contemplation and into the instinct to know (1910c), while sublimated aggression could manifest itself as creative and innovative activity.

But Freud always emphasized the risks associated with sublimation of the instincts when it takes place at the expense of the sexual and deprives the subject of immediate satisfaction. Although sublimation appears as the guarantor of the social bond and promoter of culture, it is, nonetheless, a dangerous demand, a "ruse of civilization" (Mellor-Picaut, 1979) when it presents individual sublimations as ideal models. For Freud, sublimation is not the core of an axiological approach to psychoanalysis, and the introduction of narcissism represented an important turning point in his theory. Sublimation took place "through the mediation of the ego, which begins by changing sexual object-libido into narcissistic libido, and then perhaps goes on to give it a different aim" (1923b, p. 30). Sublimation no longer occurs at the expense of the object-libido but offers the narcissistic libido a needed extension. However, it does not protect the individual, who is left at the mercy of the death instinct.

Freud was against making sublimation a privileged goal of the treatment, one that could even be advocated by the analyst (1915a [1914]). In this, he disagreed with Carl G. Jung (1914d), as well as Lou Andreas-Salomé, whom he had also accused of "blab-bering about the ideal" in his letters to Jung (January 10, 1912), James J. Putnam (May 4, 1911), and Oskar Pfister (October 9, 1918). In all these cases he was struggling against the temptation of an anagogic approach to psychoanalysis. It may be assumed that this threat of having such a complex concept corrupted contributed to the fact that it has never been thoroughly developed. One thinks in particular of an unpublished draft on sublimation written for Freud's projected book on metapsychology.

The concept of sublimation has been discussed by many of Freud's followers, though without any significant contributions being made to metapsychology. In later years Melanie Klein became one of the most important commentators on sublimation, primarily in connection with epistemophilia. In France, Daniel Lagache (1962) and Jean Laplanche (1980) have both written essays on sublimation.

Sublimation, which is often mentioned in the literature, by emphasizing the desexualization of goals and the social valorization of the object, remains both an essential concept and an unresolved question for psychoanalysis.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Anality; Analytic psychology; Anthropology and psychoanalysis; Applied psychoanalysis and the interactions of psychoanalysis; Character; Civilization (Kultur ); Defense; Depressive position; Desexualization; Drive; Ego; Ego autonomy; Ego and the Id, The ; Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, The ; Eroticism, anal; Eroticism, urethral; Friendship; Group psychology; Healing; Idealization; Identification with the aggressor; Ideology; Intellectualization; Knowledge (instinct for); Latency period; Law of the Father; Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood ; Pleasure ego/reality ego; Pleasure of thinking; Psychic apparatus; Reaction formation; Reciprocal paths of influence (libidinal coexcitation); Reparation; Repetition; Rite and ritual; Science and psychoanalysis; Sexuality; Superego; Symbol; Symbolization, process of; Thought; Work (as a psychoanalytic concept); Working-off mechanisms.

Bibliography

Freud. Sigmund. (1908d). "Civilized" sexual morality and modern nervous illness. SE, 9: 177-204.

. (1910c). Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. SE, 11: 57-137.

. (1915a [1914]). Observations on transference love. (Further recommendations on the technique of psychoanalysis III). SE, 12: 157-171.

. (1914d). On the history of the psycho-analytic movement. SE, 14: 1-66.

. (1930a [1929]). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 57-145.

. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.

Lagache, Daniel. (1984). La sublimation et les valeurs. In Oeuvres completes 5. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. (Original work published 1962)

Laplanche, Jean. (1980). Problématiques III, la sublimation. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Mellor-Picaut, Sophie. (1979). La sublimation ruse de la civilisation. Psychanalyseà l 'Université, 4.

Further Reading

Arlow, Jacob, rep. (1955). Panel: Sublimation. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 3, 515-527.

Kris, Ernst. (1955). Neutralization and sublimation. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 10, 30-46.

Loewald, Hans W. (1988). Sublimation: Inquiries into theoretical psychoanalysis. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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sublimation

sublimation A term used by psychoanalysts, to refer to the unconscious process by which a sexual impulse is deflected, so as to express itself in some non-sexual and socially acceptable activity. For example, a child may wish to play with faeces, but in the light of parental disapproval may play with pies or make clay models instead (see C. Brenner , An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis, 1974
).

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"sublimation." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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sublimation

sublimation (sub-li-may-shŏn) n. the replacement of socially undesirable means of gratifying motives or desires by means that are socially acceptable. See also defence mechanism, repression.

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sublimation (in psychology)

sublimation, in psychology: see defense mechanism; psychoanalysis.

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"sublimation (in psychology)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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