Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 63 (3):569 - 592 (2001)
AbstractI argue that courtly love can throw a new light upon two major problems in Freud's theory of sublimation. For Freud sublimation is the procès in which the sexual aim of the drives is diverted towards a non-sexual aim that is still related with the original one. The first problem regards the relation between the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quern. Freud describes this relation with different terms. The notion of ‘desexualisation’ represents precisely what he has in mind. This term propounds that Freud understands sublimation as a one-sided movement that consists in leaving behind the original sexual aim. Courtly love proves that desexualisation as Freud understands it, is not a necessary condition for sublimation. A weakening of Freud's strong claim concerning desexualisation implies however that the distinction between sublimation and perversion is not always clear-cut. The second problem appertains to the processes that bring about the transformation of the sexual aim. Courtly love infers that idealisation of the love-object can play an important role in bringing about sublimation. The kind of sublimation that corresponds to courtly love is what has been called in German Idealism ‘Verführung’ (rapture). Psychoanalytic theory is not willing to conceive idealisation in this sense. According to the classical psychoanalytic theory, idealisation produces repression of sexual drives. I argue that this idea is counter-intuitive and that Freud's understanding of idealisation is more subtle. I give a short overview of Freud's approach of idealisation and I denote some elements in his approach that help us to describe the direct link between idealisation and sublimation. Idealisation of the beloved can go together with an inhibition of sexual drives. But it is wrong to identify aim-inhibition with repression. I suggest to characterize the interaction between idealisation and sublimation as an exaltation of drives
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