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Sayers, J. (2007). Beyond Abjection: Art, Religion, Psychoanalysis. Ann. Psychoanal., 35:165-177.

(2007). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 35:165-177

Beyond Abjection: Art, Religion, Psychoanalysis

Janet Sayers, Ph.D.

Freud famously contrasted art with neurosis and religion. Artists, he argued, use their skill to sublimate and realize their fantasies in their art. This could include fantasies of killing the father and marrying the mother, as in Sophocles' drama Oedipus Rex. By contrast, the neurotic represses such fantasies and may symbolically repeat and atone for them in the form of self-punishing symptoms. Similarly, Freud maintained, religious practices (e.g., Holy Communion) repeat and atone for a prehistoric event in which, he speculated, brothers banded together to kill the patriarchal leader of the primal horde so as to sexually possess his women, this in turn being atoned for by society's subsequently developed, patriarchally ordained taboo on incest.

In this essay I argue that psychoanalysis, like art and like religion, can be understood as sublimating rather than repressing fantasy, specifically the fantasy that Freud described as the oceanic illusion of oneness with otherness, Klein called the fantasy of projective identification, Lacan called imaginary oneness with one's mirrored reflection, and Bion called at-one-ment with O. In arguing this I draw particularly on Kristeva's development of these ideas in ways that go beyond her riposte, with which I will begin, to Freud's account of religion as defense against parricide by emphasizing instead its abjection of horror of return to incestuous oneness with our mothers in the womb.



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