What, according to Freud, is sublimation and why is it important?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Sublimation, according to Freud, is a defense mechanism. It is the channeling of impulses that might be considered inappropriate in society into acceptable directions. For example, a person with violent urges might become a football player, or a person who was excessively concerned with order might be an architect. Freud thought that most creative work, especially in the arts, was the result of the sublimation of repressed urges, especially the sex drive. Because the sex drive was so powerful, and because the unfettered expression of it was so frowned upon by society, the tension created could be channeled into constructive outlets. "Historians," Freud claimed,

...appear to be as one in assuming that powerful components are acquired for every type of cultural achievement by this diversion of sexual instinctual from sexual aims and their direction to new ones.

It should come as no surprise that Freud's theory of sublimation, which essentially explained everything that was creative and good about Western civilization by pointing to repressed sexuality, was quite controversial among Victorian readers.


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