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Birger, D. (1983). Meetings of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Psychoanal Q., 52:319-321.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 52:319-321

Meetings of the New York Psychoanalytic Society

Daniel Birger

April 14, 1981. SUBLIMATION: AN INQUIRY (The 31st Freud Anniversary Lecture). Hans W. Loewald, M.D.

Dr. Loewald began by describing the ambiguous attitude toward the concept of sublimation in psychoanalysis. On the one hand it represents the spiritual and creative achievements of man; but on the other it contains within itself the disillusioning recognition that humanity's greatest achievements are just a "cover-up" of the underlying crude psychic reality. If biological instinctual life is seen as true, authentic reality, then sublimation is ultimately spurious, inauthentic.

The concept of sublimation as a defense evokes a great deal of theoretical ambiguity as well. It remains unclear whether we should use the term sublimation only for specific functions that lead to higher cultural pursuits, or whether it can be used to denote any defensive function that does not dam up or countercathect instinctual drives, but organizes and channels them for discharge in a conflict-free manner. Regardless of its ambiguity, the concept points to something of exceeding importance: without this function of transformation from lower to higher levels of mentation, man would not be man. The relationship between sublimation and civilization is complex. Freud speculated that civilization is a process that the human race undergoes in a manner similar to the process of biological maturation of the individual. Sublimation gives rise to civilization, but the process is reciprocal—"civilizing" constraints, coming with education, promote and enhance sublimation in the individual.

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