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  Sublimation (from Latin sub, ‘under’ and limen, ‘threshold’) was a theory in 19th-century aesthetic criticism, taken up and developed by Freud. Writers such as Nietzsche, Novalis and Schopenhauer had suggested that sublimation of sexual instinct might go some of the way to explaining the creation of work of genius; Freud\'s systematization of their ideas echoed his theories on human mental and sexual development. In the growing adult, he said, the sublimation of sexuality happens in the following way: infant sexuality is suppressed by the Oedipal complex; there follows a period of latency, after which the sexual instinct is revived in puberty, in a reorganized form. So, too, in the case of genius, the sexual instinct is sublimated, repressed and redirected into creative work.

Nietzsche applied the idea of sublimation to aggressive instincts as well as sexual ones, saying that ‘Good actions are evil actions sublimated’. Sublimation of instincts is the result of inhibition or rationalization by intellect; sexuality, however, is always still connected to the sublimated forms of behaviour. In 1903 the psychologist C.S. Myers published his notion of the ‘superior function’ of the sublimated self, and said that works of genius come from a storehouse of reflected knowledge and understanding that lies behind consciousness. This ‘superior function’, he claimed, also connects us to the spirits of the dead and has the unconscious task of weaving fantasies. MJ

See also creativity; defence mechanism; taste.Further reading F.W. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy; , Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.



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