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Mann, D. (1992). Sublimation: Inquiries into Theoretical Psychoanalysis by Hans W Loewald. Published by Yale University Press, 1988; 89 pages; £12.50.. Brit. J. Psychother., 9(1):106-108.

(1992). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 9(1):106-108

Sublimation: Inquiries into Theoretical Psychoanalysis by Hans W Loewald. Published by Yale University Press, 1988; 89 pages; £12.50.

Review by:
David Mann

This short, interesting book by one of America's leading ego psychologists attempts to get to grips with one of the most elusive of psychoanalytical concepts, sublimation. Loewald makes the point early on that sublimation has both a privileged and a suspect status in psychoanalysis. The privileged status is due to human self-evaluation. It is suspect insofar as psychoanalysis tends to regard modes of psychic life as a defence, a concealment of true psychic reality.

Loewald traces the development of the concept of sublimation through Freud's thinking when it was first mentioned by him in the 1890s in the Fliess letters. There Freud speaks of phantasies as ‘psychical facades constructed in order to bar the way to these memories’, but he also asserts that ‘phantasies at the same time serve the trend towards refining memories, towards sublimating them’ (p. 1). Loewald shows convincingly that this enigmatic status of sublimation remained to the end of Freud's life.

Loewald goes on to trace the development of thought about sublimation. Traditionally it has been classified as a defence, but not pathological. Fenichel distinguished successful defences under the term sublimation and unsuccessful defences as pathogenic. Sublimation in this respect is successful in that, under the influence of the ego, the aim or object is changed without blocking adequate discharge. Complications arise in trying to decide whether sublimation is a higher or lower form of psychic organisation. The former includes valued cultural functions such as religious, moral and artistic achievement, the latter being all forms of psychic functioning that go beyond the immediate pursuit of direct instinctual discharge without being affected, thereby becoming unsuccessful defences.

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