Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Importance of Sublimation

All of this talk of jokes reminds me of another clip you might be interested in. This time, from the BBC sketch comedy show Mitchell and Webb:

This illustrates the fundamental importance of repression and sublimation: No repression, no comedy. Not in the 1970s, anyhow. Imagine how boring the world world would be if a sausage was really just a sausage, and not a lewd invitation! We'd get nothing done, ever.

Of course anyone who reads early Freud doesn't need to be reminded of this: For Freud, repression and sublimation really are at the very heart of Civilisation. It's worth remembering that without repression, we'd spend our whole lives under the sheets, pleasuring and being pleasured. All cultural, social life are just the final resting place of energies that otherwise would have been spent in sexual rapture, if society (in the persona of the internalised Father) hadn't stepped in to spoil things.

Well, psychoanalysis has naturally moved on from these initial formulations. But knowing this about Freud explains a lot, I think, about where psychoanalysis went when sexual 'repression' wasn't so obvious. (Again, as Foucault would say, we were never really sexually repressed anyway, but it's about appearances in this case, really.)

It also answers a question I long wondered about. Well, not really a question, but it was something friends and I went around asking people when we undergraduates, to show everyone how clever and witty -- in a post-Wildean way, I suppose -- we could be:

Do you think that dogs would have evolved to a higher level of civilisation if they hadn't been distracted by their ability to lick themselves?

The answer, of course, as I now know, is 'Yes'. Obviously.

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