Nietzsche contra Sublimation

Journal of the History of Philosophy 58 (4):755-778 (2020)
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Many commentators have claimed that Nietzsche views the “sublimation” (Sublimierung) of drives as a positive achievement. Against this tradition, I argue that, on the dominant if not universal Nietzschean use of Sublimierung and its cognates, sublimation is just a broad psychological analogue of the traditional (al)chemical process: the “vaporization” of drives into a finer or lighter state, figuratively if not literally. This can yield ennobling elevation, or purity in a positive sense—the intensified “sublimate” of an unrefined original sample. But it can also yield drives that are attenuated or otherworldly, in a pejorative sense. One (but only one) kind of Nietzschean sublimation is the “translation” of drives to “imaginative and spiritual” (Imaginative und Seelische) modes of expression. I con­clude that, despite certain appearances to the contrary, Nietzsche ultimately values basic drives’ powerful expression, without preferring either that this occur specifically as “higher culture” or as “savage” natural impulse.

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Eli I. Lichtenstein
University of Edinburgh


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