This is another very interesting book that refers to our psychoanalytic work.

In this case, it refers to my paper about “aesthetic melancholy”, and if it is a sublimation or a creation. A first version of this paper was published in French, in Psychologie Clinique Review (Arce Ross, 2000) and a second version was published in Italian in a book under the direction of Maurizio Mazzotta (Arce Ross, 2002). Then, a further revised version was published in my book on Manie, mélancolie et facteurs blancs (Arce Ross, 2009).


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Rossella Valdrè, in her book, On Sublimation: A Path to the Destiny of Desire, Theory, and Treatment, (Karnac Books, London, 2014), stressed that «alongside literary melancholy, there are also those who have theorised a “pictorial melancholy” (Bonfand, 1991, p. 11, translated for this edition), of the same nature and completely bound to art, comparable to pictorial art, where the universal representation of melancholic pain has been the object of artistic portrayal for centuries (since the images on Egyptian sarcophagi depicted sadness, for example on their faces and in their expressions).

«It can however be misleading and confusing to deduce the presence of psychopathological melancholy from these forms defined as literary or pictorial, as they are suggestive reflections; “Contrary to how it might appear, the aetiology of melancholic psychosis is not to be confused with this or that artistic or intellectual output” (Arce Ross, 2001, p. 30, translated for this edition). If a certain depressivity is therefore indispensable to the creative drive, to feel the same need beginning with the unavoidable lack, the presence of a real depressive psychopathology is quite another thing—one that actually often finishes with a complete paralysis of artistic activity or leads to suicide, either disguised or direct» (p. 91).


About the book On Sublimation

This book of Rossella Valdrè explores and revisits the concept of sublimation, in its various aspects and implications that it has in theory and clinical psychoanalysis, and also in its broader socio-cultural aspects. The basic assumption that aroused the author’s interest in the topic is a certain surprise in observing how sublimation in psychoanalysis is in general spoken about less in contemporary discourse: so is it an outdated concept, an endangered species? Does it belong to the archaeology of psychotherapy? Or, on the contrary, is it so much a part of analytical practice and so well established and implicit in theory that it is not necessary to discuss it any more? It is the prevailing opinion of the author that sublimation is nowadays expressed differently and has undergone a sort of anthropological mutation, as has happened to several Freudian concepts with the changing historical and cultural contexts.

The present book looks at sublimation from various angles: it takes you through the history of the concept, its birth with Freud and post-Freudian development; its implications and controversies in psychoanalytic theory and in the idea itself of psychoanalytic treatment; and its central role in creativity and art, exploring for example the “great” successful sublimations of Leonardo da Vinci and Emily Dickinson.

At the heart of the book is contemporaneity and its contradictions: what is the place of sublimation in today’s so-called ‘postmodern’ or hypermodern culture? The question, according to the author, is neither an idle one nor mere speculation: the existence of sublimation does not just coincide with the same psychoanalytic theory as Freud thought but also involves the destiny itself of contemporary man, his chances of survival and of living psychically, not squashed into consumerism, in the immediate satisfaction of his needs, or staying with the reassurance of gregariousness and the masses. The central thesis of this book is that sublimation and creativity, even in the most personal and minimal of forms, are essential to psychic life and to subjectivity. Despite this, as the book suggests in its conclusion, Freud himself thought that sublimation was never, due to its nature, complete: there will always be a ‘scrap’, a gap, something which is missing, as the human subject is pushed, throughout life, to the satisfaction of the drive.

So today the contemporary cultural climate helps impoverish our capacity for sublimation because of the changed cultural scene, compared to the early 1900s, whilst the Freudian concept of sublimation is more than ever current and necessary. In the author’s opinion, in both psychoanalytical theory and practice, this subject must be recaptured and reenergized, as a completely modern concept as well as being crucial to the very survival of psychoanalysis.



ARCE ROSS, German, « De la mélancolie “esthétique” », Psychologie clinique, 10. Harmattan, Paris, 2000, pp. 59-71

ARCE ROSS, German, « La Melanconia estetica », in : Mazzoti, M. (sldd), Stili della sublimazione. Usi psicoanalitici dell’arte. Franco Angeli, Milano, 2001, pp. 22-32

ARCE ROSS, German, Manie, mélancolie et facteurs blancs, Préface du Professeur Georges Lantéri-Laura. Beauchesne, Paris, 2009

VALDRÈ, Rossella, On Sublimation: A Path to the Destiny of Desire, Theory, and Treatment (IPA: Controversies in Psychoanalysis), Karnac Books, London, 2014

German ARCE ROSS. Paris, November 2016.

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