PTypes - Personality Types
PTypes A Correspondence of Psychiatric, Keirsey, and Enneagram Typologies Noteworthy Examples


In Life against Death, Norman O. Brown (pp. 157-58) decried "Apollonian" sublimation and called for the construction of a "Dionysian" ego; but it turns out that sublimation is the essential regulatory mechanism of the schizothymic temperament.

A sound instinct made Freud keep the term "sublimation," with its age-old religious and poetical connotations. Sublimation is the use made of bodily energy by a soul which sets itself apart from the body; it is a "lifting up of the soul or its Faculties above Matter" (Swift's definition of religious enthusiasm). "Writing poetry," says Spender, "is a spiritual activity which makes one completely forget, for the time being, that one has a body. It is a disturbance of the balance of body and mind." "Mathematics," says Bertrand Russell, "rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty--a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without any appeal to our weaker nature....the true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry." And, like the doctrine of a soul distinct from the body, sublimation, as an attempt to be more than man, aims at immortality. "I shall not altogether die," says Horace; "my sublimations will exalt me to the stars (sublimi feriam sidera vertice)."

Sublimation thus rests upon mind-body dualism, not as a philosophical doctrine but as a psychic fact implicit in the behavior of sublimators, no matter what their conscious philosophy may be. Hence Plato remains the truest philosopher, since he defined philosophy as sublimation and correctly articulated as its goal the elevation of Spirit above Matter. But as Frazer showed, the doctrine of the external or separable soul is as old as humanity itself.

The original sublimator, the historical ancestor of philosopher and prophet and poet, is the primitive shaman, with his techniques for ecstatic departure from the body, soul-levitation, soul-migration, and celestial navigation. The history of sublimation has yet to be written, but from Cornford's pioneering work it is evident that Platonism, and hence all Western philosophy, is civilized shamanism--a continuation of the shamanistic quest for a higher mode of being--by new methods adapted to the requirements of urban life. The intermediate links are Pythagoras, with his soul-migrations, and Parmenides, the great rationalist whose rationalistic vision was vouchsafed to him by the goddess after a ride through the sky to the Palace of Night. The discovery of the shamanistic origins connects the historical investigation of Western philosophy with the psychoanalytic investigation. The shaman is far enough from us so that we can recognize that he is, to put it mildly, a little mad; and, as we have seen, psychoanalysis discerns an intrinsic insanity in sublimation. "Pure intelligence," says Ferenczi, "is in principle madness."

Brown, Norman Oliver (1959). Life against death: the psychoanalytical meaning of history. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

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