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Frank, G. (1991). Sublimation: Inquiries Into Theoretical Psychoanalysis. Hans W. Loewald. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988, 88 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 78(3):475-478.

(1991). Psychoanalytic Review, 78(3):475-478

Sublimation: Inquiries Into Theoretical Psychoanalysis. Hans W. Loewald. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988, 88 pp.

Review by:
George Frank, Ph.D.

Since the 1950s, Hans Loewald has been making inquiries into theoretical psychoanalysis; his searching, examining, scholarly mind has left no meta-psychological or clinically relevant topic unaddressed. But in his inquiries, Loewald does not just “inquire,” he examines and then adds his own viewpoint, producing ideas that turn out to constitute major revisions of the theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis. Sublimation is just such a work; Loewald examines the construct as Freud defined it and then presents his own viewpoint, a viewpoint significantly different from Freud's.

In some sense, Loewald's book on sublimation could have been subtitled “Freud Revisited.” Loewald rejects Freud's (1915) explanation of sublimation as one of the vicissitudes of instinctual energy. To understand the construct of sublimation, Loewald invokes the idea Freud (1900) used to explain the nature of dreams: “symbolic representation.” Because Loewald's explanation of sublimation is presented as an alternative to Freud's, we should begin by examining Freud's way of conceptualizing sublimation.

Having committed himself to the theoretical constructs of Darwinian biology, with its central thesis that humans are but evolved forms of the animal kingdom, Freud could easily account for human sexual and aggressive nature. Having accepted the Darwinian notion that humans also have a self-preservative instinct, Freud could easily explain why people might choose to renounce the direct forms of expression of sexuality and aggression. In the face of the fear of the consequences (e.g., punishment and/or retaliation), people try, through a variety of maneuvers, to protect themselves from these anticipated dangers, whether real or imagined. However, having to account for such blatantly “nonanimal” phenomena as values, morals, ideals, religion, philosophy, science, art, and music on the basis of instincts could have posed an insoluble difficulty for most people — but not for Freud.

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