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Berman, J. (1976). Conrad's Lord Jim and the Enigma of Sublimation. Am. Imago, 33(4):380-402.

(1976). American Imago, 33(4):380-402

Conrad's Lord Jim and the Enigma of Sublimation

Jeffrey Berman, Ph.D.

We believe that civilization has been created under the pressure of the exigencies of life at the cost of satisfaction of the instincts; and we believe that civilization is to a large extent being constantly created anew, since each individual who makes a fresh entry into human society repeats this sacrifice of instinctual satisfaction for the benefit of the whole community. Among the instinctual forces which are put to this use the sexual impulses play an important part; in this process they are sublimated—that is to say, they are diverted from their sexual aims and directed to others that are socially higher and no longer sexual. But this arrangement is unstable; the sexual instincts are imperfectly tamed, and, in the case of every individual who is supposed to join in the work of civilization, there is a risk that his sexual instincts may refuse to be put to that use.

Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis

He was not—if I may say so—clear to me. He was not clear. And there is a suspicion he was not clear to himself, either. There were his fine sensibilities, his fine feelings, his fine longings—a sort of sublimated, idealised selfishness. He was—if you allow me to say so—very fine; very fine—and very unfortunate. A little coarser nature would not have borne the strain; it would have had to come to terms with itself— with a sigh, with a grunt, or even with a guffaw; a still coarser one would have remained invulnerably ignorant and completely uninteresting. Lord Jim, p. 177: my italics.


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