Friday, October 21, 2011


‘Sublimate’… Yes, folks, we know what it means (quoting from today’s email): “1: to cause to pass directly from the solid to the vapor state 2: to direct the expression of (a desire or impulse) from a primitive to a more socially and culturally acceptable form.”

Going to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged version: deriving from the Latin past participle of sublimare: “to lift up, raise —more at ‘sublime’.” “1: obsolete a: to elevate to a place of dignity or honor b: to give a more elevated character to.” So, the original motif was valuative or/and interpersonal. “2 a: to cause to sublime [[sublimate sulfur]] (I’m using ‘[[’ for quoted examples in the M-W definitions because its own angular bracket is used online in HTML.) b: archaic : to improve or refine as if by subliming c: obsolete: to get or extract by or as if by subliming.” You feel an alchemical aura?: longing of an esoteric mentality for elevation through transformation, relative to being sublime or enacting sublimeness or sublimity. That there is sublime (noun) leads to there being subliming: bearing more sublimity in light of disclosing sublimity—internalizing a potential of the world, enowning the hidden or innerworldliness of what’s given in the giving.

‘sublime’: First it was, for English, an alchemical verb inherited from Medieval Latin: evolving mindality on the way to empirical science (I’ll skip details of that definition). The distinctly psychosocial intimations of the triumphal Romans (a literalist legacy of enchanted Greeks) becomes the technological intimations of esoteric northwest Europeans. But the Latin legacy is nonetheless, if secondarily, retained: “2 a: to elevate or exalt especially in dignity or honor: to render finer (as in purity or excellence) b: to convert (something inferior) into something of higher esteem or worth [[selfishness sublimed into care for the public welfare]].” In the beginning, after eons of hominid progress toward humanity, our witness of nature through cyclical-transformation mysteries is enowned. “3: to cause to rise upward [[the sun’s hot rays sublime the morning dew]].”

In light of this, ‘sublime’ becomes an adjective, born from the Latinate sense of there being a threshold: “limen”: “1 a: lofty in conception or expression [[the sublimest lines in English prose]] [[a sublime style difficult to maintain]] b: elevated or exalted in character: of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth [[in a sublime spirit of sacrifice…]]” And so, it came to pass that there was Literature: “c: tending to inspire awe or uplifting emotion usually by reason of elevated beauty, nobility, grandeur, solemnity, or similar character [[the sublime beauty of the night]] [[a sublime peace settled about us.]]”

And so we begot the noun: “1: things that are sublime: the sublime aspect of anything: the quality of sublimity”—aspects and qualities—“usually used with the [[we see little of the literary sublime in current writing]] [[from the sublime to the ridiculous]].”

Back to ‘sublimate’: There’s a curiosity here as to what there is in a certainty of what is there: “3: to direct the energy of (an impulse) from a primitive aim to one that is higher in the cultural scale especially in the course of psychoanalysis [[sublimate sexual curiosity into artistic or scientific production]] intransitive verb : to undergo sublimation.”

We’re very familiar with this third meaning, at least as cultural currency. That’s a neo-Victorian culturality that considers impulses primitive. But any artist (or, for that matter, scientist) will readily agree that an impulse to explore or to play with materials or to inquire is not rooted in anything primitive. Quite the contrary!

The “nature” of especially-human animality is not primitive. The primative nature of our humanity (what makes our biopsychalogical presence so much more than that of other primates) may very well be sublime, though the nature of our primativity as such includes probabilities of regression [i.e., what’s primitive] in wakes of evinced fears, etc.) that settle into presumptions that keep one’s sense of inworldness—thus one’s self—coherent. Too much curiosity about that can be too disturbing.

But psychoanalysis is ultimately an historicist hermeneutic, expressive of its Era. To clinical psychology by now, psychotherapeutic models have evolved beyond the kind of early psychoanalytical thinking that confuses (as Freudian psychoanalysis does confuse) healthy developmental primacy with its maladaptive outcomes. “Mature” Freudian psychoanalytical stories of healthy development were premised on so much clinical experience of maladaptive aspects of lives (which becomes philosophically nihilist). Classical psychoanalytic access to human development (individuation) happened by way of so much suffering. Its developmental models were misinformed (contrary to, say, D.W. Winnicott, Jean Piaget, and especially-developmental psychology of recent decades). What’s “primitive” are regressive, maladaptive legacies of early development.

But classical psychoanalytic notions are well disseminated in cultural currency (which has its still-prudish economies of “good” sense). Classical psychoanalytic notions, though highly substantiated by clinical experience of its clients’ eras of their life, belongs to its Era of evolving mindality discovering itself in opportune clinical settings (thus, kinds of therapeutic alliance) it created (along with so much valid discovery), and thereby mistakenly “evolved.”

So, let’s backtrack a bit now: Our conceptions echo hidden and given history (or echo historicality—an outerworldliness of oneself—and historicity, an innerworldliness of oneself—a differentiation of historiality, by the way, I take from “Heidegger’s” Being and Time via English translation).

For ‘sublimate’ again, Merriam-Webster writes, in part, “ of (an impulse)...” as one might write “energy of [an impulse],” i.e., energy irt some placeholder or variable; call it “an impulse.” But implicit differences can be vitally important here: between a primal aim, a primary aim, a primative aim, and a primitive aim. Human development emerges through primal and primary aims (both humanly primative) with derivative, secondary, post-secondary, whatever, aims. Confounding outcomes of development—one’s bricolagic selfidentity—sometimes include maladaptations of primative features which are relatively (reconstructedly) primitive irt a model of age-appropriate individuation.

A sense of individuation can become highly elaborate (I’ve been so eager to show), even philosophically engaged in senses of integrative conceptuality: a high fidelity, possibly implying senses of primordiality (highly at risk of untenability!—though not in my case, lol).

Obviously, a word meaning becomes part of a standard dictionary because the word’s usage in that sense becomes common enough. Thereby, one may be properly regarded to use ‘sublimate’ irt a sense of directing “energy.” But what are we directing when we convert, improve, refine, honor, elevate, or exalt? We are at least realizing, if not actualizing, aims: want (desire irt need), intent, or purpose. We are at heart highly purposing animals whose aspiration for heights has no upper limit (inner, deeper, distant).

Yet, we’re given boundaries everywhere, always implying another side, inner if not hidden. There is liminality everywhere, thresholds of possibility and prospect. Primordial to our nature is a sense of differences and anticipated disclosures beyond a given or implied liminality. Found or created, disclosed or instilled, we long to move on, in, over, or beyond.

I go, thereby a difference is made.

To ‘sublime’ may be enacted (transitive) or undergone. Also (thereby), I may be subject to sublimation ironically by my unwitting capability (pre-subjective, non-conscious, covert intent) to instill or disclose as if the world itself, in some aspect, some respect, is disclosing itself by itself—as if speaking to me from, say, the trees or some height. Whether I’m giving or given, my bearing may be intimating god-knows-what through intimations, enchantments, or elations.

So, like a refrain, let me recall that ‘sublime’ becomes a so resonant adjective born from there being a threshold brought to bear, “1 a: lofty in conception or expression [[the sublimest lines in English prose[, never for the author to judge]]] [[a sublime style difficult to maintain]] b: elevated or exalted in character: of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth[, one hopes]… c: tending [at best] to inspire awe or uplifting emotion usually by reason of elevated beauty, nobility, grandeur, solemnity, or similar character[—As If] [[the sublime beauty of the night]] [[a sublime peace settled about us.]]”

So, how sublime may there be an intimacy of inworldness?