The Things That Occur to Me While I’m in the Shower

What’s the relationship between the Kantian sublime and Freudian sublimation? Is the apparent relationship merely a coincidence of translation? Or is there some deeper connection that I’d never noticed before? It sounds as though sublimation ought to be the process of making sublime, which makes me wonder whether Freud understood the sublime not as an amalgamation of beauty and terror but rather the containment of terror by beauty, the transformation of the chthonic into the aesthetic. Is there anything in this?

This post brought to you by the skin brightening face scrub in my shower that describes itself in French as “soin lissant sublimateur,” which got me wondering whether I really wanted my face to be sublime, or whether I was just channeling my libido into better skin care.

4 thoughts on “The Things That Occur to Me While I’m in the Shower

  1. while i don’t think about this in the shower, i do think about this and the key i think is what is below the surface, the liminality and its perception and from what perspective. of course lyotard talks a good deal about the relations of these too concepts, though not really at the same time…..

  2. Yes! The shower is the most under-appreciated academic necessity. I not only do my best thinking in the shower, I would go so far as to say that I do my only thinking in the shower. I hereby resolve to take more showers.

    As for the relationship between the sublime and sublimation, there is certainly a connection at the surface level, but you seem to be reading Freud via Kant rather than the other way around. It seems to me that for Kant the sublime experience is necessarily traumatic.

    In other words, for Kant it seems that the sublime represents a rending of the liminal shell, violence to our perceptual apparatus. Freud doesn’t focus as much on this experiece of the sublime, as on the damage that occurs in the overeager reconstruction of that apparatus. Perhaps we should associate Freud more with DEsublimation.

  3. I completely agree about the shower, Alex; I’m not sure I’d ever have finished my dissertation without it.

    Thanks, too, for your rendering of the Kant/Freud connection, which begins to make a new kind of sense to me. So rather than suggesting that the sublime is a containment of terror by beauty, it’s instead the moments at which the world’s beauty rends and we can see the horror that always resident under the surface? Sort of a momentary glimpse into the Lacanian real? That would imply, yes, an oppositional relationship between the sublime and sublimation, I think, as in my reading Freud associates sublimation with the productive channeling of the id into superego-approved pursuits, something that is at one and the same time traumatic (in the repressions that it works and the symptoms that it produces) and absolutely necessary to the production of “culture.” Does this make sublimation (what I think you’re referring to when you say “the overeager reconstruction of that apparatus”) not the process of making-sublime but the process of defending oneself against the sublime? The containment of the sublime?

    I’m fascinated, but am still sure I’m missing something…

  4. Too funny — thank you. I sent this along to a friend as evidence as to why I read so many blogs so obsessively. He’s starting to get it, I think.

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