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  1. William Graebner

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0959

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Graebner, W. 2010. Sublimation. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. State University of New York, Fredonia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Freud brought the term sublimation into psychoanalytic discourse in an 1897 letter to Wilhelm Fliess, in which he described culture and the libidinal drive as essentially antagonistic and conceptualized sublimation as a filter for primal memories. However, the concept, as well as the word, has significant pre-Freudian origins. The idea that the containment of desire might yield cultural fruit dates at least to the Greeks, and the understanding of sublimation as a transformation of one substance into another is derived from ancient Egyptian and medieval alchemy (and resembles Wilhelm Ostwald's turn-of-the-century ideas about the transformation of energy). Although Freud's goal in developing sublimation was to bridge mind and culture, his interest in the concept also was an expression of the anxieties about sexuality that were common in the Victorian era and that shaped the lives and work of, among others, Henry James, G. Stanley Hall, Thomas Mann, and Gaston Leroux, the author of the 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.


  • creativity;
  • desublimation;
  • libido;
  • sexuality;
  • sublimation