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Sublimation

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French: sublimation
Sigmund Freud

In Freud's work, sublimation is a process in which the libido is channelled into apparently non-sexual activities such as artistic creation and intellectual work. Sublimation thus functions as a socially acceptable escape valve for excess sexual energy which would otherwise have to be discharged in socially unacceptable forms (perverse behavior) or in neurotic symptoms. The logical conclusion of such a view is that complete sublimation would mean the end of all perversion and all neurosis. However, many points remain unclear in Freud's account of sublimation.

Jacques Lacan

Lacans takes up the concept of sublimation in his seminar of 1959-60. He follows Freud in emphasizing the fact that the element of social recognition is central to the concept, since it is only insofar as the drives are diverted towards this dimension of shared social values that they can be said to be sublimated.[1] It is this dimension of shared social values which allows Lacan to tie in the concept of sublimation with his discussion of ethics.[2]

Differences - Freud and Lacan

However, Lacan's account of sublimation also differs from Freud's on a number of points.

Perversion

Freud's account implies that perverse sexuality as a form of direct satisfaction of the drive is possible, and that sublimation is only necessary because this direct form in prohibited by society.

Lacan however rejects the cocnept of a zero degree of satisfaction, arguing that perversion is not simply a brute natural means of discharging the libido, but a highly structured relation to the drives which are already, in themselves, linguistic rather than biological forces.

Whereas Freud believed that complete sublimation might be possible for some particularly refined or cultured people, Lacan argues that "complete sublimation is not possible for the individual."[3]

Object

In Freud's account, sublimation involves the redirection of the drive to a different (non-sexual) object. In Lacan's account, however, what changes is not the object but its position in the structure of fantasy.

In other words, sublimation does not involve directing the drive to a different object, but rather changing the nature of the object to which the drive was already directed, a "change of object in itself," something which is made possible because the drive is "already deeply marked by the articulation of the signifier."[4]

The sublime quality of an object is thus not due to any intrinsic property of the object itself, but simply an effect of the object's position in the symbolic structure of fantasy.

Death Drive

While Lacan follows Freud in linking sublimation with creativity and art, he complicates this by also linking it with the death drive.[5]

Several reasons can be adduced to explain this.

  1. Firstly, the concept of the death drive is itself seen as a product of Freud's own [[sublimation."[6]
  2. Secondly, the death drive is not only a "destruction drive," but also "a will to crate from zero."[7]
  3. Thirdly, the sublime object, through being elevated to the dignity of the Thing, exerts a power of fascination which leads ultimately to death and destruction.

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 144
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 144
  3. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.91
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 293
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.431
  6. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.212
  7. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.212-3