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Sublimation and the Over-Mind in H.D.'s "Notes on Thought and Vision" Matthew Kibble Queen Mary and Westfield College University of London IN HER 1919 ESSAY, "Notes on Thought and Vision," the modernist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) formulated a theory of what she called the "over-mind," a transcendent, ecstatic state of heightened consciousness and artistic inspiration; the purpose of this paper is to place this concept in the context of contemporary psychoanalytic theories of cultural production. H.D.'s direct engagement with Freud is well known—her analysis in Vienna in 1933-1934 is described in Tribute to Freud and informs much of her later work—but it is probable that she had encountered his work even before leaving Philadelphia for Europe in 1911.1 My reading of "Notes on Thought and Vision" suggests that she was already developing her critique of Freudian cultural theory as early as 1919, and her later interest in the work of the English analyst Ella Freeman Sharpe is further evidence that this search for an alternative theoretical framework continued into the 1930s. The link H.D. makes in the "Notes" between creativity and hidden, unconscious states of mind was clearly influenced by psychoanalytic theories of art, in which the key term is "sublimation." However, this term was never fully theorised by Freud; to find a "Freudian theory of sublimation" we would have to reconstitute one from comments dispersed throughout his work, which describe sublimation as the repression of perverse drives, and the channelling of this energy into a culturally valuable aim. The Super-Ego became central to this theory, as the agent of both the repression of the perverse drives, and of their transformation into "sublimated" intellectual end-products. 42 KIBBLE : H.D. The Super-Ego was also described by Freud as "the vehicle of tradition ,"2 an inherently conservative agency, which gives a normative and patriarchal character to sublimation theory; it rests on a fundamental opposition between sublimation and perversion, and it presumes a certain definition of "culture," and of what is "culturally valuable" or "socially useful." In H.D.'s aesthetic and psychic theory, on the other hand, the "over-mind" has a transgressive aspect, which saves it from this normativity. Freud's writings invoke a view of culture as an inevitable evolutionary progress, accompanied by an implicit suppression of "abnormal" sexuality. H.D.'s "over-mind," however, is closer to those elements of Freudian theory recently retrieved by Leo Bersani, who sees them as the basis for an alternative theory, in which sublimation is "coextensive with (rather than "beyond") sexuality."3 H.D. begins "Notes on Thought and Vision" by distinguishing between three "states or manifestations of life, body, mind and over-mind"; her theory of the "over-mind" is an explicit criticism of the idea that artistic or intellectual activity involves the suppression of sexual activity. She goes on to insist on the need for a "healthy" balance between mental and physical development: All reasoning, normal, sane and balanced men and women need and seek at certain times of their lives, certain definite physical relationships. Men and women of temperament, musicians, scientists, artists especially, need these relationships to develop and draw forth their talents. Not to desire and make every effort to develop along these natural physical lines, cripples and dwarfs the being.4 In other words, all those activities which fall under the heading of "sublimation" depend on the development, rather than the suppression, of physical desire. However, this stress on the physical is soon displaced, and the body is left behind as the initial triad shifts upwards: "When a creative scientist, artist or philosopher has been for some hours or days intent on his work, his mind often takes on an almost physical character. That is, the mind becomes his real body. His over-mind becomes his brain."5 In place of the "real" material body then, the creative artist has a fantasmatic body, a body of the mind. It is this insubstantial body and ethereal over-mind which produce man's highest cultural achievements: Leonardo's Madonna of the Rocks, the sculpture of the charioteer at Delphi, Euripides' choruses and Jesus's parables...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 42-57
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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