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Sharpe, E. (1930). Certain Aspects of Sublimation and Delusion. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 11:12-23.

(1930). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 11:12-23

Certain Aspects of Sublimation and Delusion

Ella Sharpe

In 1879, a Spaniard, interested in problems of the evolution of culture, was exploring a cave on his estate at Altamira, in Northern Spain. He was searching for new examples of flint and carved bone of which he had already found specimens. His little daughter was with him. The cave was dark and he worked by the light of an oil lamp. The child was scrambling over the rocks and suddenly called out 'Bulls, Bulls!' She pointed to the ceiling, so low that he could touch it with his hand. He lifted the lamp and saw on the uneven surface numbers of bison and other animals drawn with great realism and painted in bright colours. These drawings are now accepted as the work of the Hunter Artists of the Reindeer Age, computed to be 17, 000 years ago.

To execute these drawings, paleolithic man penetrated to the cave and must have burned animal fat in a stone lamp in order to see. It was a purposeful act and a purposeful journey, for the people actually lived at the entrance to the cave or under shelving rocks near the entrance.

Seventeen thousand years later a man by the aid of a lamp penetrates to those recesses. A child sees the animals first and points them out to her father.

At that dramatic moment of recognition in the bowel of the cave a common impulse unites the ancient hunter artist and modern man. Between them lies the whole evolution of civilization, but the evolution that separates them springs from the impulse that unites them. By which I mean that the Spaniard is driven to the far recesses of the caves by the same inner necessity that sent the hunter artist there. The hunter-artist goes to make life-like representations. The Spaniard goes to find flints and carved bones, in order to piece together evidence of the life of primitive peoples. In other words to reconstruct, to make a representation of, life that has passed away.

My intention in this short paper is to deal with certain aspects of this many-sided complicated subject of sublimation, viz. in dancing, singing, painting and historical research, since my clinical experience


1 Read at the Eleventh International Congress of Psycho-Analysis, Oxford, July 31, 1929.

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