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Sharpe, E.F. (1935). Similar and Divergent Unconscious Determinants Underlying the Sublimations of Pure Art and Pure Science. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 16:186-202.

(1935). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16:186-202

Similar and Divergent Unconscious Determinants Underlying the Sublimations of Pure Art and Pure Science

Ella Freeman Sharpe


1. The divergent mechanisms underlying science and art are those of introjection and projection. The scientist deals with his psychical problems in terms of the external universe, the artist in terms of himself. In one thought-processes predominate, in the other body-knowledge and bodily processes.

2. These divergent mechanisms are methods of dealing with a common problem, namely, the preservation of the good object and the self from the aggressive phantasies of infancy, due to internal and external frustration, this frustration being experienced at oral stages when self-preservative and libidinal desires were inseparable.

3. In both sublimations there is found the phantasy of a massive imago, which is introjected and projected respectively. This massive imago is the psychical equivalent to the massive emotional state too big to manage or understand when the rage of frustration possessed the infant. It is identified with the frustrating external object. The anxiety-state is an attempt to master this object in order that gratification and assurance may be gained.

4. The mechanisms of introjection and projection work in terms of reality. Science concerns itself with external reality, the choice

of aspect corresponding to internal phantasy. The artist produces works which are conditioned to a real medium.

5. The preservation of reality-sense and maintenance of reality-contacts is accomplished by the triumph of a fundamental good physical and psychical experience over the bad, or, put in another way, physical and psychical well-being are inseparable from rhythmic rise and fall of tension. Anxiety and aggression bring about disruption of these, for loss of rhythm is painful tension.

6. The artist, by producing a work which exhibits the characteristics of harmony and design, is identifying himself with this good experience which means physical and psychical life. He thereby orders aggression into rhythm again. In phantasy he magically controls the incorporated hostile imagos, his aggression and theirs, and masters the situation by making pleasure come again, the loss of which caused the original anxiety. Body-ego knowledge, bodily powers, are the means by which this creative pleasurable work is produced.

7. The scientist finds out facts based upon bodily experience, allied with observation of those in his external environment, experiences of pleasure and pain. The need to know, to investigate, is heightened by aggressive phantasy. The projection is made more massive because of fear of the responsibility of injury to the mother. Knowledge of reality is a bulwark against phantasy, but the fact of contact with reality, the actual power to find out causes and laws, is based not upon aggression, per se, but upon a fundamental experience of psychical and physical reality, namely, rhythmic order. This triumphs over aggression and in phantasy preserves the good imago.

8. Pure scientist and pure artist are alike in that neither of them are interested in their work for its utilitarian value. The massiveness of this necessity seems to impair their adult reality-adaptations. In any analysis of pure scientist and artist I have conducted, full genital primacy has not been attained. Childhood-positions have been dynamic for them. Their works are loving reparations, and, like children, it is as if they assumed that this alone would ensure them a livelihood. The 'purity' implies that the imagos were unharmed, unused and unspoiled by them. The capacity to 'see' purely, to know 'purely, ' is derived from infantile experiences of satisfactions and assurance, which alone are the conditions for anxiety-free looking and knowing. Artist and scientist fall back on these occasions.

9. Both alike retain spontaneity and a child-like wonder and admiration. This is in keeping with the fact that their work is a sublimation

of elemental powers, neither a repression nor reaction-formation. The child-like wonder and admiration they retain is due to a constant surprising renewal of a good experience and a good imago which, ever threatened, is yet ever found again to their surprise and joy.

10. While adaptation to adult reality, as we understand it, is faulty in the pure scientist and pure artist, one must also acknowledge that the 'fundamentals' in science and art have never been revealed by those who were bent first of all upon application, but by those who, to a lesser or greater degree, have been unconsciously occupied by the central problems of reality itself without which the applications of science and art would be impossible, namely, the problems of the mastery of aggression by the submission of it to living rhythm. Those engaged massively in the unconscious with problems of life and death and who yet retain contact with reality are those who reveal the 'fundamentals', the 'laws' of the universe, either externally or internally; and according to the measure of purity attained, which is the equivalent of objectivity, will be the measure of truth revealed.

11. Science and art represent two divergent methods of knowing the universe, external and internal. Thought-processes linked with unconscious phantasies of an aggressive and sexual type hinder 'pure' knowing. 'What is Freud getting at in this theory?' 'How can one make a short cut through the ego and reach the unconscious?' 'What is happening to libido-theory these days, it seems to be falling into the background?' These are some examples with which I am very familiar, indicating how advances in our own science are made difficult by the projection of 'bad' things into scientific theories, just as it may be true that different aspects of our science may be neglected or emphasized or lack co-ordination because of our own inner urgencies.

But even where 'pure' knowing is accomplished in science and 'pure' art by the artist, it is nevertheless the correlation of 'pure' knowledge with physical and psychical processes, and the correlation of 'pure' intuitive bodily knowledge with thought-processes, that will bring about unity of knowledge. Projection and introjection are complementary processes, the inner and outer, the convex and concave surfaces of one truth.

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